Leo Nucci is, Once Again, a Marvelous Rigoletto

SpainSpain Verdi, Rigoletto: Generalitat Valenciana Chorus, Comunitat Valenciana Orchestra / Roberto Abbado (conductor), Palau de Les Arts, Valencia, 11.5.2019. (JMI)

Rigoletto (Leo Nucci) © Mikel Ponce y Miguel Lorenzo
Rigoletto (Leo Nucci) © Mikel Ponce y Miguel Lorenzo

Director – Emilio Sagi
Sets – Ricardo Sánchez-Cuerda
Costumes – Miguel Crespí
Lighting – Eduardo Bravo

Rigoletto – Leo Nucci
Gilda – Maria Grazia Schiavo
Duke of Mantua – Celso Albelo
Sparafucile – Marco Spotti
Maddalena – Nino Surguladze
Monterone – Gabriele Sagona
Giovanna – Marta Di Stefano
Countess Ceprano – Olga Syniakova
Marullo – Alberto Bonifazio
Ceprano – Arturo Espinosa
Borsa – Mark Serdyuk
Page – Juliette Chauvet
Usher – Pau Armengol

Rigoletto was last performed in Valencia’s Palau de Les Arts in November 2012. Now it has returned in what could be considered an homage to Leo Nucci, the Rigoletto par excellence of the past 25 years, who remains a vocal miracle and an example for so many singers. Needless to say, this performance marked a new triumph for the Italian baritone.

This is the well-known Emilio Sagi staging which premiered in Bilbao in 2006. The production, which I have had the opportunity to see several times, is a modern work that respects the libretto. The set is made up of two levels with moving platforms that facilitate changes, but anyone who expects to see Verona, the river or palaces will be disappointed. The costumes are traditional and well suited for the protagonists, and somewhat Felliniesque for the extras. The lighting can be insufficient at times, no doubt due to the (perhaps excessive) darkness that Sagi maintains on the stage.

The direction seemed to fall a bit short with the soloists, and it could have been improved for the crowd scenes. The incestuous relationship of Sparafucile and Maddalena is provocative, but it helps one understand the depraved character of the assassins and the Duke’s debauchery.

Conductor Roberto Abbado’s reading was good in general, at the service of the singers and drawing fine performances from both orchestra and chorus.  I have some questions about his responsibility in cutting the traditional high notes, to which I will refer later.

As I said above, Leo Nucci is truly a vocal miracle, given the way he sings and moves on stage at the age of 77. It has been 35 years since I first saw him as Rigoletto, and it is amazing how he keeps himself in this vocal shape. I think opera fans will agree that Nucci is the great Rigoletto of the past quarter of a century, totally identifying with the role of the hunchback. There is a wide vibrato in his high notes now, and the volume of his lowest register is reduced, but his Rigoletto is still superb. Surely no one would expect a Rigoletto with Leo Nucci in which there is no encore of the ‘Vendetta’ and, indeed, there was one on this occasion.

Gilda was played by soprano Maria Grazia Schiavo, who was making her debut here. She has an attractive voice, one well-suited to the character of Gilda, with good coloratura, although her highest notes can be a bit harsh.

Celso Albelo was again the Duke of Mantua, but I cannot say that his performance was particularly brilliant. It is known that this singer has always had a huge facility in the top notes, but this time was different. It is not that he failed at them, but he simply didn’t sing them, at least all those considered optional, which really are all the high Cs in the first and second acts. It is the first time that I have not heard him going to the high C in ‘Addio, addio’ or ‘Possente amor’. I don’t know if the decision was his or the musical director’s, but the audience lost out because of it.

Sparafucile was interpreted by bass Marco Spotti who, incidentally, was also the murderer when this production premiered in Bilbao. In the intervening years, his voice has lost some quality, and he is today a more modest interpreter. Maddalena was correctly sung by mezzo-soprano Nino Surguladze, who is well-suited to the role in terms both of singing and acting. The Monterone of Gabriele Sagona was satisfactory. The rest of secondary characters were covered by students of the Plácido Domingo Perfection Center, as is usual here.

The Palau de Les Arts was sold out, and the audience greeted the artists warmly, especially Leo Nucci, who received a standing ovation.

José M. Irurzun

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