The Met seems to have a problem finding the locale of Verdi’s dark masterpiece. They moved it from Mantua to Las Vegas in 2013. That production didn’t last long; it was replaced this year by one set in the capital city of the Weimar Republic. Why? Who knows? Which site is weirder? Hard to tell. Was anything gained by the improbable geography? Nope. So why was it done? The only apparent reason is that the show was initially staged in Berlin.
Bart Sher was in charge of the production. He’s been a regular at the Met since 2006 when his staging of Rossini’s Barber was a big hit. He hasn’t reached that level in the 16 years that followed. This production isn’t going to break the streak. The setting could have been in Ruritania for all I could tell, though it was a little too seedy for that country. The uniforms were more appropriate for Central Europe in the last third of the 19th century rather than pre-Nazi Germany. Sher did solve one problem that’s always troubled me. In the last scene if the Duke is so hot for Maddalena why does he voluntarily go to sleep leaving the girl with nothing on which to base her high opinion of him? Sher has them upstairs in bed during the quartet with Gilda and Rigoletto downstairs. Thus, the Duke leaves after he’s had what he came for and Maddalena has a reason to beg her brother not to kill him.
A meteorological note. The were a lot of empty seats in the house. The show was mounted despite a severe snowstorm that obviously kept a lot of people way. Also, the Met is heavily back into masks. Maestro Daniele Rustioni looked more like Black Bart than an Italian conductor. Hiding the conductor’s facial expressions takes away a lot of his rapport with the singers and musicians.
So how were the singers? Rigoletto succeeds or not depending on the three principals, especially the baritone. I heard Quinn Kelsey sing Verdi’s unfortunate jester in Santa Fe during the 2015 season. He was quite good. Then as today he omitted some of the commonly interpolated high notes and eschewed the cries of ‘Gilda’ when he searches for his kidnapped daughter in Act 2. He has the right timbre and range for Verdi’s baritone roles. All the notes were there, except for the climatic high note as the end of the Vendetta duet which he shorted, what’s lacking is more intensity. Rigoletto is the great anti-hero who is undone not by a tragic flaw, but rather by a tragic virtue – he loves his daughter. She is his only reason for living. She’s a teenager who throws her life away intoxicated by the thrill of first love.
Rosa Feola is a young Italian soprano who has sung 11 times at the Met, all as Gilda. She has a lovely high soprano voice that she uses with sensitivity. In addition to singing the role well, her acting was appropriate. She’s still young enough to pass for a teenager – at least by the standards of opera.
Tenor Piotr Beczala made his Met debut as the Duke in 2006. This performance was his 27th shot at the libertine nobleman at the New York house. In the 15 years since his first appearance at the Met his voice has solidified to near spinto dimensions. He was very impressive in the role that every great Italian style tenor has had at the center of his repertoire over the past century and a half. Though he’s put on a few pandemic pounds, he still looks and acts the part of the Duke of Mantua who somehow wandered into Weimar Germany in about 1930.
In the smaller roles Andrea Mastroni was vocally impressive as the assassin Sparafucile, though he looked somewhat slight for the job. Varduhi Abrahamyan was equally impressive as the hitman’s for hire sister. Craig Colclough delivered the fatal curse as Monterone with gusto.
Maestro Rustioni gave a standard reading of Verdi’s familiar score. Professional, but nothing revelatory. Gary Halvorson’s camera was unobtrusive, which is what it should be for these shows. In summary, a good performance of one of opera’s essential works. I don’t know if I would have braved the snowstorm that hit the northeast to see it. Fortunately, it was sunny and in the mid 60s where I was.
Metropolitan Opera House
January 29, 2022
Giuseppe Verdi–Francesco Maria Piave/Victor Hugo
Duke of Mantua……….Piotr Beczala
Count Ceprano………..Christopher Job
Countess Ceprano……..Sylvia D’Eramo
Page………………..Catherine MiEun Choi-Steckmeyer
Conductor…………… Daniele Rustioni
Set Designer…………Michael Yeargan
Costume Designer……..Catherine Zuber
Lighting Designer…….Donald Holder
Video Director……… Gary Halvorson
Production in cooperation with Staatsoper, Berlin