New Light on Familiar Verdi – Sferisterio of Macerata’s Rigoletto

Verdi, Rigoletto: Conductor, Andrea Battistoni; Sets, Costumes and Staging, Massimo Gasparon; Lighting, Sergio Rossi; Chorus Master, David Crescenzi; Choreographer, Robert Maria Pizzuto. Orchestra Regionale delle Marche; Marchigiano Chorus V Bellini; Salvadei (on-stage) band. Sferisterio of Macerata 23.7.2011 (JB)

Cast: The Duke of Mantova -Ismael Jordi; Rigoletto -Giovanni Meoni; Gilda- Désirée Rancatore; Sparafucile -Alberto Rota; Maddalena – Tiziana Carraro; The Count of Monterone -Alberto Rota

Andrea Battistoni

Andrea Battistoni was born a month ahead of the lion that he sounds like on the podium (my report here of his 2010 ROF Viaggio a Reims) on 2 July 1987 in Verona, where his mother was a piano teacher at a local conservatory. But it was his father (a doctor) who set the boy’s adrenalin flowing for all matters operatic, taking him to the Arena. There was an instant ambition to be part of this magnificent spectacle. This year it was accomplished. He is conducting his first opera at the Arena –Barbiere di Siviglia- alternating performances with Macerata’s Rigoletto. Next year, Le Nozze di Figaro comes up at La Scala, followed by Falstaff.

We are chatting in his hotel a few hours ahead of his opening night of Rigoletto. He is scruffily handsome and pleasantly relaxed, though some of that nervous energy which he communicates so evidently to performers is also coming through. Music -above all, thinking about music- takes up a huge part of his life. What are his interests outside music? Oh, I’m horribly lazy outside music. I like modern American fiction. I could read it in English but that would take too long, so I go for it in translation. I am beginning to understand him: all this remarkable nervous energy demands immediacy. That is what he audibly gets out of orchestras. They are gleefully surprised by the sounds he draws out of them. The Sferisterio’s Press Officer, Beatrice Giongo, told me that at the end of the dress rehearsal, the players stood up and applauded him: an unprecedented episode.

He agrees with me that there is not a dull bar of music in Rigoletto. His baton takes singers, players and audience through the melodrama like a torchlight procession, illuminating dark corners. I thought I knew intimately every note of the opera but this performance is showing me how much I have missed. The recitatives, which he treats like arias, take on a new life-force. And for instance, there is a timpani arpeggio at the end of Caro nome, measured with perfect pianissimo resonance to haunt you for the rest of your life. Much thought had obviously gone into such detail before he arrived at his first rehearsal. And he agrees that the Sferisterio has been generous with his demands for rehearsal time.

Massimo Gasparon is an old hand at Sferisterio production and so used to getting the best out of this unusual performing space. He was also well served by Roberto Maria Pizzuto’s choreography in the Court scenes. The father and daughter scenes could not help looking a little bare on the world’s widest stage, but the music is so sublime here that one can forgive an incompatibility of stage and action. More might have been made of the final scene inside / outside the tavern though all who are free of prudery would have applauded the magnificent legs of Maddalena (Tiziana Carraro) coming into full view as the athletic Duke of Mantova (Ismael Jordi) leaps on top of her for his night’s business.

Ismael Jordi (Duke) and Désirée Rancatore (Gilda)

The Spanish tenor, Ismael Jordi, who is not in the first flush of youth, is boyish in everything he does, including his extremely attractive voice. He delivered Quest’o quella with a nonchalance worthy of Caruso, whom you may know, used to sing it casually taking off his gloves. It is impossible not to like the Jordi voice. But that turns out to have a drawback: the Duke of Mantova has a menacing, almost evil streak as part of his character. This was missing. But I left the performance thinking this was a small price to pay for an otherwise memorable performance.

Désirée Rancatore is the perfect Gilda, small and frail of build and with an amazingly secure vocal delivery which successfully alternates between power, hope and fear as the occasion demands. She reminded me of the youthful Renata Scotto in more ways than one.

Giovanni Meoni has certainly understood what the role of Rigoletto is all about . His costume is that of a clown rather than a court jester in this production and nicely highlights the melodrama. He has the clearest diction of all these singers though he also has an unfortunate tendency to err towards half speaking the role where full voiced singing would be more appropriate. This was especially noticeable in the recitatives. There must have been some conflict of interest between singer and conductor here. But you can see whose side I am on.

Alberto Rota made a fine voiced Sparafucile and Tiziana Carraro (legs and all) made the most of that thankless role of Maddalena. Her low notes grounded the quartet impressively. Alberto Rota also appeared in the brief role of the Count of Monterone. He had some intonation mishap in his first scene. A pity. This brief appearance can chill the hearts of the audience when it is well sung.

The other unpredictable character was the Macerata weather. At the beginning of the second scene of Act 1, where Rigoletto meets Sparafucile, the heavens opened and rain poured. Battistoni downed his baton and orchestra, singers and audience ran for shelter. Fortunately there is plenty of shelter in the Sferisterio buildings. Press and VIPs were ushered into an attic room to a drinks and nibbles party. But the storm took its time. It was more than an hour and a half later before we were called back into the Arena, where glamorous young women were mopping the rain off the seats with paper towels. Not the first time they have done this, I fancy. It was well after one when the performance ended and after three after the opening night celebratory dinner. Late to be sure. But as you see, they do things properly in Macerata.

Jack Buckley

All Pictures © Alfredo Tabochini