With its 2008 production of Rigoletto Parma’s Tutto Verdi series reaches the first of Verdi’s mature masterpieces. Rigoletto is performed so often and is therefore so familiar to opera goers that its utter originality is obscured by its ubiquity. The title role is the supreme test for an “Italian” baritone.
I can add little to the praise that has been given Rigoletto. Nothing like it had ever been heard before in Italian opera. The juxtaposition of a corrupt nobility headed by an utterly evil prince with a lower class anti-hero stirred Verdi to his core and resulted in a masterpiece that seems like a Greek tragedy. But here the protagonist is undone not by a tragic flaw, but rather by his only virtue – his love for his daughter.
Leo Nucci was 66 years old when this recording was made. He has reportedly sung the part more than 500 times – 31 times at the Met. At 72 he continues to sing it. He looks older than space, but his voice is fresh and strong. Parma is not only famous for opera and Verdi, it’s also known for its ham. Nucci has obviously consumed a lot of it; he breaks character to acknowledge applause after ‘Cortigiani, vil razza dannata’ and encores the ‘Vendetta’ duet in front of the curtains after the end to Act 2. If you can toss off Gs and As the way he does the pork is OK. The notoriously critical audience in Parma obviously loves him. Here are the two numbers make up your own mind about his vocal state.
Nino Machaidze plays Gilda, Rigoletto’s idiot teenage daughter. (I realize I’m being redundant.) Born in Georgia in 1983 she looks young enough to be a teenager and she’s so good looking that we can understand why the lecherous duke is attracted to her, though I suppose he’d also be attracted to a fire hydrant. She bills herself as a coloratura soprano, though she has a rich middle voice that suggests she might move to some of the heavier Verdi soprano roles as she matures.
Tenor Francesco Demuro has a very light tenor that is stressed by the duke. His sound seems more appropriate for Rossini. Surprisingly he seemed to have more trouble with the B flat at the end of ‘La Donna e Mobile’ than he did with the high D at the conclusion of ‘Possente amor’. This cabeletta to the duke’s second act aria is a throw back to Verdi’s earlier style and used to be omitted; recently it’s been reinserted by most companies.
Bass Marco Spotti was appropriately sinister as the assassin Sparafucile. Stefanie Irányi was fine as the whore with a heart of copper. Roberto Tagliavini brought a rich sound to the opera’s other wronged father, Monterone. Massimo Zanetti conducted with vigor and authority.
The production was directed by Stefano Vizioli with sets and costumes originally by Pierluigi Samaritani. As is typical at the Parma house much effect is gained with minimal means. The duke’s palazzo is suggested more than depicted. Sparafucile and Rigoletto meet in a dark space centrally lit. The inn of the final act is on two ominous levels. The costumes are period specific and finely made. This is a very good performance, but there are many fine recordings of Verdi’s masterpiece. Its most noteworthy feature is Nucci’s quintessentially Italian portrayal of Verdi’s tormented jester.
Il duca di Mantova – Francesco Demuro
Rigoletto – Leo Nucci
Gilda – Nino Machaidze
Sparafucile – Marco Spotti
Maddalenna – Stefanie Irányi
Giovanna – Katarina Nikolic
Il conte di Monterone – Roberto Tagliavini
Marullo – Orazio Mori
Matteo Borsa – Mauro Buffoli
Il conte di Ceprano – Ezio Maria Tisi
La contessa di Ceprano – Scilla Cristiano
Un usciere di corte – Alessandro Bianchini
Un paggio della duchessa – Scilla Cristiano
Parma Teatro Regio Chorus and Orchestra
(chorus master: Martino Faggiani)
Massimo Zanetti, conductor
Stefano Vizioli, stage director
Alessandro Ciammarughi, set and costume designer (after Pierluigi Samaritani)
Franco Marri, lighting designer
Video Director, Andrea Bevilacqua
Recorded live at the Teatro Regio di Parma, 16, 20, and 22 October 2008