Rigoletto -- Metropolitan Opera, 1/24/09
Frontali, Kurzak, Filianoti, Petrenko, Vizin / Frizza
It wasn't a Rigoletto for the ages, but a cast of relative unknowns put on a more than creditable performance of Verdi's warhorse Saturday night at the Met. Another unknown led: debuting conductor Riccardo Frizza, an Italian both young and promising. He got a vividly colored and lively sound from the orchestra, and worked well with the singers -- though the last degree of timing and time-control wasn't yet there. (We'll see if and how this changes as the run goes on.) On the downside, he took maybe a too "authentic" approach to the text, opening out some usually cut Rigoletto-Gilda bits that don't do much and axing Gilda's quartet-capping high note. (Spoilsport!)
Roberto Frontali, last seen as Ford opposite Bryn Terfel's Falstaff, was scheduled to sing only the April performances of Rigoletto, but Željko Lucic's cancellation moved him into this one winter performance as well. (The others now have George Gagnidze -- of whom I've never heard -- in the title part.) I thought he both made and limited the performance: the first with his satisfying Verdian force in the voice's middle and his unusually wracked portrayal (this Rigoletto's nerves are, as they probably should be, frayed from his double life even at the start, driving his cruel jests and then his obsession with the curse); the second with a vocal range that doesn't really encompass the part's high notes. Quite good, on the whole.
Aleksandra Kurzak, who sang Blonde in Mozart's Abduction last spring, is something of a find as Gilda. The Polish soprano has a top-to-bottom soft-grained character to her sound that combines with a trace of quick vibrato to impart an appealing (non-voluptuous) sensuality to her singing. It also keeps her from any high-soprano hardness even on top notes. On the other hand, the same soft-grainedness seems to keep her from dominating ensembles and orchestra, though she can easily, as in "Caro nome", project high notes into the house on her own. There is little hardness to her stage persona either, which is excellent at the beginning (Gilda as Disney heroine!) but makes her self-sacrifice at the end more pathetic than excessively noble (it should, I think, be both). In a sense she's the anti-Diana Damrau (with whom she not only shared that Abduction but is sharing the part of Gilda this year)... Tastes will vary but for myself I'd usually choose to hear Kurzak.
It's unfortunate that much of the question with Giuseppe Filianoti is his relative vocal state. After an auspicious debut Edgardo three-plus years ago, he came back to that part here last spring after a big illness, sounding not quite recovered in voice. He's since nevertheless kept moving to heavier roles, and this plus the odd dropping from La Scala's opening continues to inspire worry.
Filianoti's is a hyper-intense style, reminiscent of Neil Shicoff's, and there's a fine line between high-intensity singing and high-stress. For the first half of his part, he sounded wholly in control, with all the well-communicated stress and urgency being his character's ardent nature. But from "Possente Amor" (which seemed to sit uncomfortably in his voice) until the end, something seemed to slip and he was fighting for the high notes, in which a shouted -- even screamed -- character now lurked (though he nevertheless continued to hold them for full duration).
I heard something distinctly worrisome in this, but we shall see. In any case, the good was very good.
Mikhail Petrenko was an excellent Sparafucile -- strongly sung, and full of his character's odd fiery professionalism. As his sister, the Met's hiring of debuting mezzo Viktoria Vizin might indicate that they now want a Maddalena who looks like she actually could lure a stranger to his death with her sex appeal... Or not: Vizin in fact has a nice full voice with an appealing lower register. (But her looks don't hurt.)
The house was, incidentally, totally full. Apparently Verdi is recession-proof.