Leo Nucci Nails Rigoletto in The Groyne

SpainSpain G. Verdi, Rigoletto: Soloists, Orquesta Sinfónica de Galicia, Coral Polifónica El Eco, Miguel Ángel Gómez Martínez (conductor). Palacio de la Ópera de La Coruña 07.09.2011 (JMI)

59th Opera Festival by Amigos de la Ópera de La Coruña.

Production: ABAO (Asociación Bilbaína de Amigos de la Ópera) and Lisbon Teatro Sao Carlos.

Direction: Emilio Sagi (Original), Nuria Castejón (Revival)
Sets: Ricardo Sánchez Cuerda
Costumes: Miguel Crespi
Lighting: Eduardo Bravo

Rigoletto: Leo Nucci
Gilda: María José Moreno
Duca di Mantova: Mikeldi Atxalandabaso
Sparafucile:Dmitri Ulyanov
Maddalena: Maria Jose Trullu

La Asociación de Amigos de la Ópera de La Coruña hold their opera festival for the 59th time, making it the oldest continuously run such festival in Spain. They opened with Verdi’s Rigoletto and Leo Nucci in the title role, one of the most important interpreters of that role in our time.

The production by Emilio Sagi had its premiere in five years ago in Bilbao. The sets consists of walls with doors around the stage and platforms in the middle on which we find Rigoletto’s house in act one, a huge bed in act two, and Sparafucile’s hut in act three. It is the kind of modern production that creates neither confusion nor gives reason for outrage, but then nothing really interesting happens on stage, either. Costumes are fairly traditional with hints of Fellini for the extras. Personal touches by Sagi include the incestuous relationship of Sparafucile and Maddalena, which may help to understand the depraved character of that pair of assassins. At the end of the opera, while Gilda expires and Rigoletto sings “La maledizione”, the courtesans are supposed to return to the stage, as if life continued as usual, but they did not appear in Coruña. Rumor has it that Mr. Nucci wouldn’t accept it.

The musical direction under Miguel Angel Gómez Martinez was flat out disappointing. In the last few operas he conducted he struck me as very decent, but the results this time around—routine, with erratic tempos unsupportive of the singers—left much to be desired. The orchestra was well enought, but not at the level of recent performances. The chorus, too, was well below par, unguided and fending for itself.

At least Leo Nucci’s Rigoletto is still the best possible today. For someone who will turn 70 in a few months, the condition of his voice amounts to a minor miracle. But this time I found him at something slightly below his exceptional best from two years ago at Teatro Real, also as Rigoletto. There were signs, here and there, of vocal fatigue that I had never noticed before. Still, he remains unbeatable as Rigoletto… and quite naturally the Vendetta Duet was encored.

The most positive surprise of the evening was the performance of María José Moreno as Gilda. I have always maintained that this character requires more than a pure light soprano, as in the last two acts there is quite a lot of dramatic action.  Ms. Moreno was truly excellent from beginning to end, with a voice perfectly suited to the character.

Mikeldi Atxalandabaso made his debut as the Duke and the result was a most positive one. This excellent singer has developed a distinguished career as a true luxury comprimario and now he leaps into a stellar cast for the first time. His first act was faultless, with excellent and elegant phrasing. In his second act aria he was not helped at all by the slow tempos by Gomez Martínez, but he coped with all the difficulties and problems and came through with an excellent interpretation. His “La Donna è mobile” was fine and only during “Bella figlia del amore” was he a little short of power. Overall, a really successful debut of this tenor, and one promising even more for operas by, say, Donizetti as Il Duca might be at the limit of his possibilities today.

Russian bass Dmitri Ulyanov was a rather coarse Sparafucile while Maria Jose Trullu sang Maddalena, earning neither demerits nor glory.

José Mª Irurzun