Rigoletto returns to Barcelona’s Liceu in an uneven production

SpainSpain Verdi, Rigoletto: Chorus and Orchestra of the Gran Teatre del Liceu / Daniele Callegari (conductor). Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona, 30. 11 & 1.12.2021. (JMI)#

Christopher Maltmann & Olga Peretyatko in Rigoletto (c) D. Ruano

Director – Monique Wagemakers
Sets – Michael Levine
Costumes – Sandy Powell
Lighting – Reinier Tweebeeke

Rigoletto – Christopher Maltman/Markus Brück
Duke of Mantua – Benjamin Bernheim/Saimir Pirgu
Gilda – Olga Peretyatko/Aigul Khismatullina
Sparafucile – Grigory Shkarupa/Liang Li
Maddalena – Rinat Shaham/Nino Surguladze

This popular Giuseppe Verdi opera is back on stage at the Liceu in a co-production with Madrid’s Teatro Real. It is ​​possibly the opera that has been performed the most in the history of this theater: more than 375 times to date. The most recent occasion was in April 2017, and it was the same Monique Wagemakers staging as now.

The production – modern, colorful and minimalist – is characterized by the almost complete absence of sets. All the action takes place on a large platform which is moved hydraulically. The different scenarios, which occur on levels above and below the main platform, can be a bit confusing. A staging like this demands great direction, but that was not the case here: an audience needs to enter fully into the psychology of the characters for them to be convincing. The truth is that in traditional productions I have experienced the drama with more intensity.

Conductor Daniele Callegari’s reading was effective, as is usual with him. His tempos were quite accelerated: this was in fact the fastest Rigoletto that I can remember seeing on stage (and close to one he led a few years ago in Munich). I found the Liceu orchestra improved, but the chorus was not brilliant. I should mention that the chorus members, all dressed alike, sang and observed in the manner of a Greek tragedy.

Rigoletto was played by Christopher Maltman, and I found him more satisfactory than baritone Markus Brück in the second cast. His voice is wide enough, attractive and well-suited to the character, but he avoided the higher notes. It is true that many are optional, but whoever can hit them does not hesitate to do so.

Brück in the second cast was disappointing. He is a singer whom I have had the opportunity to see many times in Germany, and he had always attracted my attention. The biggest problem is that his top notes too are compromised. He again dodged all the highest ones, whether they were written or traditional.

The Duke of Mantua was performed in the first cast by tenor Benjamin Bernheim, whom I had not seen on stage until now. His voice is pleasant enough, but his greatest virtue is that he is an excellent singer in terms of phrasing and the nuances that he brings to his interpretation. Like others in the cast, he was uncomfortable in the upper part of his range and avoided the traditional top notes.  He had a problem with the final note of ‘La donna è mobile’, although he did not break it as, apparently, happened at the premiere.

Saimir Pirgu’s voice remains attractive throughout the tessitura, but there was an abuse of open sounds and few nuances in his interpretation which resulted in somewhat monotonous singing. And he too was uneasy with those high notes.

Olga Peretyatko as Gilda gave a solid, if not extraordinary, performance. Her voice is appealing, although I found it smaller than on earlier occasions. She moves well on stage, and she improved in the second part of the opera.

In the second cast, Aigul Khismatullina was Gilda, and this was my first time seeing her on stage. Her voice has quality, and she sings with gusto and emotion. Since happiness cannot be complete, I would note that her volume is not excessive, and her low notes are almost nonexistent.

As Sparafucile we had Grigory Shkarupa in the first cast and Liang Li in the second, and both were nicely suited to the part. Finally, Maddalena was sung by mezzo-soprano Rinat Shaham in the first cast and Nino Surguladze in the second. Both did well on stage and vocally.

The secondary characters were solidly sung by Mattia Denti (Monterone), Laura Vila (Giovanna) Michal Partyka (Marullo), Moisés Marín (Borsa), Stefano Palatchi (Conte Ceprano), Sara Bañeras (Countess Ceprano) and Marta Polo (Page).

José M. Irurzun

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