VERDI: Rigoletto, Blu-ray (2013)Performers: Il duca di Mantova – Francesco Demuro, Rigoletto – Leo Nucci, Gilda – Nino Machaidze, Sparafucile – Marco Spotti, Maddalenna – Stefanie Irányi; Parma Teatro Regio Orchestra, Parma Teatro Regio Chorus/ Massimo Zanetti Producer: Andrea Battistoni Film Director: Andrea Bevilacqua Studio: Unitel Classica 723304 [Distr. by Naxos] (4/26/13) Video: 16:9 1080i HD Audio: Italian DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, PCM Stereo Subtitles: German, English, French, Spanish, Japanese, Korean, Chinese All Regions Length: 131 minutes Rating: *****
The opening scene of the Teatro Regio di Parma’s performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto (1851) presages a thrilling production. Filmed in deliberately distressed B&W film, it shows the bewildered titular character roaming the dark streets of 16th Century Mantua. Harsh chords pummel him. There is an eerie sense of foreboding, as there should be. Suddenly the scene opens to the court in garish color.
Unlike previous renditions of this opera (like the 1983 film version featuring Luciano Pavarotti as the Duke, directed by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle), this one pulls out all stops and takes chances with staging and characterization. The sprightly dance music of the orgy scene at the Duke of Mantua’s palace belies the undercurrent of dark betrayal and insult to family honor. And it soon changes to something darker, more ribald. Nudity and simulated sex occur on stage. Curses fly freely as brickbats. The sound is brilliantly expansive, particularly in the opening ensemble piece at the orgy. There is an unprecedented level of musical variety.
And the casting is superb. Francesco Demuro is 34, in the prime of his performing youth and more believable as the randy Duke than Pavarotti was at a rotund 48. His voice may not have the fullness and expressive range of Pavarotti, but it comes off as sufficiently assertive and arrogant, particularly in signature tunes like “Questo o Quella” and “La donna è mobile.”
As Rigoletto, I’ve never seen such a perfect piece of casting as Leo Nucci. (He has also performed across from Pavarotti’s Duke.) More intriguing than even Ettore Bastianini of the fifties and sixties, Nucci correctly conveys himself as an aging hunchback jester trying to preserve his job through excessive identification with the corrupt court. Frantic and vicious, he is like an eager beaver corporate middle manager. The curse that falls on him is not supernatural or pathetic, nor one whose cause was rooted in some medieval sense of fate. It is directly tied to his invidious pact with the decadent court. He has swallowed their line and the hook is soon to tear his guts out.
If you hear this Blu-ray disc on a good sound system, it may showcase Nucci’s rich baritone voice through duet pieces like his agonized reminiscences of the mother of his daughter Gilda (“Deh non parlare al misero”). You should hear Gilda’s broken semiquavers and sobbing appoggiaturas bought into in such sharp focus that the sound throughout her scene feels immediate and intimate. Most impressive would probably be the famous quartet from Act 3, particularly the main lyrical section “Bella figlia dell’amore,” in which Rigoletto and Gilda join the Duke and his consort Maddalena in a thrilling rendition of contrasting emotions. In this notable scene, there is a keen aural delineation of space between each of the singers, as well as the visual physical space each occupies. You should not hear any muddiness or melding of timbre.
As Gilda, Nino Machaidze is more believable than other Gildas of the past, like Renata Scotto, who milked the role for tragic innocence. After the offstage scene with the Duke, this Gilda’s voice is no longer childish and Polyanna-ish. Her expressive power has deepened, her vocal character matured. It is clear she was not brutally raped by the Duke, but freely seduced into consensual sex. And in her penultimate scene, she makes a choice (stupid, I know) to sacrifice herself for the Duke. Correctly, this production has her dying while singing in her father’s arms, not as weak victim but as a mature (although fatally foolish) lover.
Part of the Tutto Verdi series by Unitel Classica (through which all of Verdi’s operas are now being released), this disc manages to sound extraordinary for a live recording. There are virtually no stage squeaks to be heard, like the footfalls and slamming doors of VCR and early DVD days. Even the audience applause is deftly toned down after signature numbers. I look forward to hearing other Verdi recordings in this series.