Vaffanduca! Rigoletto MET 2022.I.25 (Lontano, lontano II)
Updated: Apr 24
55yo Beczała's vaffanduca!
bella Feola, serious Kelsey, haunting Mastroni, Contessa d'Eramo.
Plus 65yo Juan Pons's Cortigiani
Il Duca di Mantova: Piotr Beczała
Borsa: Scott Scully
La Contessa di Ceprano: Sylvia d'Eramo
Rigoletto: Quinn Kelsey
Marullo: Jeongcheol Cha
Il Conte di Ceprano: Christopher Job
Il Conte di Monterone: Craig Colclough
Sparafucile: Andrea Mastroni
Gilda: Rosa Feola
Giovanna: Eve Gigliotti
Un paggio della Duchessa: Catherine MiEun Choi-Steckmeyer
Un usciere: Yohan Yi
Maddalena: Varduhi Abrahamyan
direttore: Daniele Rustioni
From up in the gods, the penultimate performance in the premiere run of the Met's new Rigoletto (2022/01/25 Tuesday evening) offered more than a few aural felicities. For starters, the Ricordi edizione critica (ed. Martin Chusid) was rendered note-complete, unsullied by the foolish traditional abridgements too often practiced within the first scene's tutti sections, in both Gilda's act I duets (respectively with Rigoletto and the Duca), and in the final act's storm trio. The entire Gilda/Duca cadenza was performed—albeit with some staging which provoked audience mirth—and the Duca executed both verses of «Possente amor». None of these passages are «rediscoveries»—each and every single one of them survive in every standard printed edition of Rigoletto!—whereas the following details heard in this version of the musical text are specific to Chusid's edition:
• Act I / Scene I after Rigoletto offends Ceprano and before Monterone's entrance, the Duca's syncopated phrase «Ah, sempre tu spingi lo scherzo all'estremo». In the standard printing and practice, «sempre» and «scherzo» fall in between beats; here those syllables were articulated on their respective downbeats.
• Act I / Scene II post-«Caro nome»-cadenza and pre-«Caro nome»-reprise, Gilda's two calls of «Gualtier Maldè!». Both start on mid-staff B, and in the standard printing and practice, both times the final syllable ascends a fourth to treble-top-space E («Gualtier Maldè!»). Verdi's final version, heard here, keeps Gilda mesmerized on the same pitch.
• Act II in the concluding D-flat major section of «Cortigiani». Traditionally Rigoletto ascends scalewise to E-flat on both phrases «Miei signori, perdono, pietade, | al vegliardo la figlia ridate». According to Verdi's autograph, the first Ricordi piano/vocal edition, and Chusid's Ricordi critical edition, Rigoletto's first phrase reaches only to D-flat («pietade») and continues to E-flat only at the crest of the second phrase («ridate»).
• Act III beginning: Italian censorship during the era of Rigoletto's creation insisted that the Duca arrive at Sparafucile's dive and make the tame request for «Una stanza e del vino». Here the authors' intention was honored and the Duca got to (im)properly insist upon «Tua sorella e del vino»!
Onto the singing:
Bravi to the four briefest vocal contributions, in reverse order Yohan Yi as the usciere who announces Monterone in Act II, an authentic voce di terror; Catherine MiEun Choi-Steckmeyer a warm-timbred paggio; Eve Gigliotti robust-toned as Giovanna.
In her Met debut run as a glamorously arrayed and creamy-toned Contessa Ceprano was LDYAP soprano Sylvia d'Eramo, an apt object of the Duca's limerence and a talent which holds promise of greater things. (One would be eager to hear her Micaëla in Santa Fe's Carmen this summer.)
Matching uniforms blurred the distinctions between Borsa (Scott Scully), Marullo (Jeongcheol Cha), and Ceprano (Christopher Job), though the latter ultimately stood out because of his instigation of a ghastly public rissa with his consort.
Worse yet, the bearer of la maledizione was stripped of his crucial gravitas and treated with plot-sabotaging contempt: Craig Colclough's Monterone was forced to spend much of his first appearance splayed upon the floor and much of his second appearance splayed across the Ducal desk. (Did he intentionally use the latter set piece as an acoustic surface off which to bounce his tone? Che furbo!)
Too often singers tackling the roles of the criminal siblings indulge in the stratagem of vocal roughhousing, whether to cope with the music's demands—Sparafucile requires presence in every register and Maddalena constantly treads the mezzosoprano lower passaggio—or to «project aural character», as if the personages' moral status excuses vocal uncouth.
No such risk here: Varduhi Abrahamyan in her company debut run as Maddalena revealed a ripe middle register and easy navigation between middle and bottom. Her parsimony of chest resonance did not impede her audibility; all the same, a more generous application of pettosità could have lent greater pungency to her utterances.
Shunning bluster and instead emphasizing lyricism, Andrea Mastroni startled the ear as a uniquely haunting Sparafucile. In his initial encounter with Rigoletto he first divulged his name on those high E-flats («Sparafucil mi nomino») in an «angel of death» mezzavoce and concluded with an effortlessly sounded bottom F. Mastroni's two Met runs so far have only been for Sparafucile; might the third time be the charm and the Met bring him back in a more varied capacity?
Il buffone himself was that disciplined artist Quinn Kelsey, previously reviewed in these pages for the Chicago Lyric Pagliacci film (https://www.verismohotspot.com/post/the-lyric-lens-pagliacci-2021-08-chicago). Unfazed by Rigoletto's tessitura, Kelsey included most of the traditional puntature—in «Cortigiani» the Gs at «se dei figli difende l'onor», the A-flat capping off the «vendetta», the F-sharp on the second «all'onda!» in his last act return, and the A-flat in the role's closing phrase. (That same phrase's orchestral tutti and change of harmony made it difficult to discern if he attempted the extra puntatura to B-double-flat.) Enjoyable as they were, even more striking is Kelsey's overall vocal economy: he doesn't waste breath, trusts the impact of legato, and shrewdly opts for mezzevoci where musically apt.
An aspect glimpsed in the Pagliacci and further pronounced here—given this role's scope and the need to project across an opera house—is Kelsey's capacity for stage vulnerability. That's a rare trait in male opera singers (particularly Americans), and through body stance and facial expressions Kelsey can communicate heartache without stooping to maudlinism.
What restrains this reviewer's enthusiasm for this admirable American artist—che mi frena in tal momento? Off and on, Kelsey's phrases gain his full vibrato only after an initial straight (vibratoless) note or two. Occasionally he'll «hit» a line with disproportionate emphasis that clashes with his generally orderly musicianship—raging at the absent Sparafucile by howling the word «bandito!» past its boundaries of pitch. And his Italian seems well-coached rather than personally owned, enunciated dutifully apart from a tendency to shade the vowels /ɔ/ /o/ and /u/ towards /œ/ and /ə/. Kelsey scarcely explores those Italianate inflections which elude musical notation but invariably animate an operatic vocal line, and to these ears that keeps something of the Verdian essence out of reach.
At 55-years-young reprising the role which introduced him to the Met fifteen seasons prior, Piotr Beczała dealt a lusty vaffanduca! to Father Time. Often tenors following the Romantic Italian trajectory from lyric into spinto relievedly abandon the Duca's high-tessitura high-testosterone challenges after a few years. But not Beczała, picking up the gauntlet and indefatigably sending out into the Met space his every sound—even the more questionable ones such as his mini-sobs and upward nudges into pitch onsets. An athletic feat that gave no quarter to the passage of time.
Rosa Feola's is the art that conceals art: neither in her singing nor her stagecraft does she advertise any grappling with the mechanics of operatic performance. She sang Gilda simply, unforcedly, keeping the voice centered—neither pulling it down nor pushing it up to accommodate range extremities, no swallowing it nor pressing it to emphasize dynamic contrasts. In her «Caro nome» cadenza Feola touched the traditional top D-sharp while eschewing the chicchiricchì which customarily precedes it, and upon concluding the aria proper the audience rewarded her with applausi a scena aperta—a mid-scene ovation.
Hearty bravi for the Met male chorus's energetic performance throughout, and particularly exciting to hear their tonal generosity as the wordless elements in the storm trio. As for the Met orchestra, under Daniele Rustioni's vigilance they struck a refreshing balance between that old-time Italian vigor and modern cosmopolitan polish. Thoughtful musical work had evidently been accomplished throughout the rehearsal period: fining down dynamics to give more room to the voices (e.g. the first section of «Cortigiani», in which the strings maintained crisp articulation even while subduing their volume), emphasizing certain dynamics to give the singers greater support (e.g. strategic downbeats in «La donna è mobile»), maintaining a flowing overall pace so the singers did not have to waste breath yet also giving them mutually desirable room to unfurl their voices. Aural theatre was created without creating acoustic barriers for the singers, a telling contrast with the previous month's Tosca conducted by the Met's music director (review link https://cutt.ly/cU8jcWt).
In a gracious human touch, Rustioni made a point to shake hands with prompter Joshua Greene: bravi maestri entrambi.
Glancing towards the Met's past: for almost a quarter-century, the Verdi-cum-verismo repertoire was the domain of Spanish baritone Juan Pons. A final Amonasro in October 2007 was his farewell to the Met but not to his voice, as affirmed by an impressive «Cortigiani» from four years later. Rousingly supported at the piano by his daughter Juana (Joana), a 65-year-old Pons is in enviable form, absent those frailties of intonation, upward extension, or breath control which can plague long-career professionals in advancing age, and generous with the particularly Verdian inflections which breathe idiomatic life into this repertoire.