A strongly sung Rigoletto at Teatro Real, but a disappointing production

SpainSpain Verdi, Rigoletto: Soloists, Teatro Real Chorus and Orchestra / Nicola Luisotti (conductor). Teatro Real, Madrid, 5, 6 and 7.12.2023. (JMI)

Ludovic Tézier (Rigoletto) © J. del Real

Director – Miguel del Arco
Sets – Sven Jonke, Ivana Jonke
Costumes – Ana Garay
Lighting – Juan Gómez-Cornejo
Choreography – Luz Arcas
Chorus master – José Luis Basso

Rigoletto – Ludovic Tézier / Étienne Dupuis / Quinn Kelsey
Gilda – Adela Zaharia / Julie Fuchs / Ruth Iniesta
Duke of Mantua – Javier Camarena / Xabier Anduaga / John Osborn
Sparafucile – Simon Lim / Peixin Chen / Gianluca Buratto
Maddalena – Marina Viotti / Ramona Zaharia
Giovanna – Cassandre Berthon / Marifé Nogales
Monterone – Jordan Shanahan / Fernando Radó
Marullo – César San Martín / Isaac Galán
Matteo Borsa – Fabián Lara / Josep Fadó
Count Ceprano – Tomeu Bibiloni
Countess Ceprano – Sandra Pastrana
Pageboy – Inés Ballesteros

This Verdi masterpiece was last seen at the Teatro Real in 2015. Many will remember those performances – it was the final time that one could hear the title role sung in Madrid by the great Leo Nucci, the quintessential Rigoletto of recent decades.

The staging is a new one, a co-production with ABAO Bilbao and Seville’s Teatro de la Maestranza. Miguel del Arco is the director and, if I am not mistaken, it is one of his first projects in the world of opera.

The action is brought up to modern times which is always a risk, even if it is fashionable nowadays. Since the premiere of Rigoletto, 172 years have passed, and what made sense then does not always make sense now. Even more so, the plot was originally set in even older times. To this one should add the troupe of dancers, present in all the scenes and, in my opinion, annoying. Even their nudity and fellatio end up boring the viewer.

The sets are largely non-existent. The Duke’s party is set in a large, empty space with some draped elements. The second scene is a sort of moon landscape with a few balloon-shaped objects, in one of which Rigoletto appears to live with his daughter. In Act II, it is back to the ducal palace with big red curtains and the Duke and dancers in the middle, while Rigoletto and Gilda sing the ‘Vendetta’. In the last act, Sparafucile’s house is nothing more than a tent. The costumes are unattractive and, of course, Rigoletto has no hump. The stage direction is not particularly interesting, and there are those ever-present dancers.

The musical direction, as in 2015, was in the hands of Nicola Luisotti. He is always a guaranteed success in these Italian operas, and especially in those by Verdi. His reading was intense and made sense in the last two acts, while I found it less remarkable in Act I. He drew solid performances from both the orchestra and chorus.

In the first cast, Rigoletto was sung by Ludovic Tézier, one of the very best baritones of today, and who, for my taste, currently shares the throne of Rigoletto with Amartuvshin Enkhbat. Tézier’s voice is suited to the character, and he did well, although one continues to miss the great Leo Nucci, who did not play the role but simply was Rigoletto. It was Tézier who received the biggest ovation of the three nights after his ‘Cortigiani’.

In the second cast. Rigoletto was Étienne Dupuis, who once again confirmed the impression he had made on me previously. He is the most lyrical of the three Rigolettos here but unlike his colleagues is not an ideal Verdi baritone. His performance was good without being extraordinary, and I was surprised that he did not offer high notes at the end of ‘La maledizione’. He won applause for his ‘Cortigiani’, but it was less intense than that for Tézier and Quinn Kelsey. As the third Rigoletto, Kelsey has the powerful voice of a true Verdi baritone. His voice suits the role, but I found him unexciting.

Soprano Adela Zaharia (featured image above with dancers) has an attractive voice, one that goes beyond the light soprano who traditionally sings Gilda. Her best moment was the always-awaited ‘Caro nome’, which was loudly applauded by the audience, and she excelled in her ‘Vendetta’ with Rigoletto.

The second Gilda was soprano Julie Fuchs, who gave a strong performance. She is a light soprano with an appealing, well-managed voice, and is a good actress. There is, however, an excessive vibrato in her voice that I had not noticed until now, and it can be intrusive. It also caught my attention that she avoided some high notes, especially in ‘Vendetta’. Ruth Iniesta was Gilda in the third cast. She too has a light soprano voice, attractive in the center, and she is a fine singer, although I find her top notes too metallic.

The first Duke of Mantua was Javier Camarena, who fell somewhat short of what I expected. His finest moments came in Act II when he sang ‘Parmi veder le lagrime’ and ‘Possente amor mi chiama’. He was less notable in the always anticipated ‘La donna è mobile’, and something similar can be said of his interpretation of ‘Questa o quella’ in Act I.

Xabier Anduaga (Duke of Mantua) © J. del Real

The Duke in the second cast was Xabier Anduaga, the great promise of Spanish tenors, although I believe that he has ceased to be a promise and is now a brilliant reality. It is enough just to look at his agenda, full of international engagements and in major opera houses. He was terrific: he has a bright voice and sings with gusto. For me, Anduaga was at his best in Act II, especially in ‘Parmi veder le lagrime’. It was excellent and got a huge ovation. John Osborn, the third Duke, is known for his bel canto specialization, especially in nineteenth-century French opera. His voice was less attractive than on other occasions: he is still an important singer, but the vocal beauty one always expects from the Duke was not there. I got the impression that he had breathing difficulties on more than one occasion.

Simon Lim was fine as Sparafucile, and bass Peixin Chen, whom I was seeing for the first time, made a positive impression, as did Gianluca Buratto. Maddalena was mezzo-soprano Marina Viotti, who was good in the part, as was Ramona Zaharia.

Jordan Shanahan, Fernando Radó, Cassandre Berthon and Marifé Nogales all did well, and the other secondary roles were covered correctly.

José M. Irurzun     

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