Friday, April 19, 2013

In darkest Vegas

Rigoletto - Metropolitan Opera, 4/13/2013
Gagnidze, Oropesa, Grigolo, Iori, Herrera / Armiliato

Ever seen someone get lost on stage on the way to his curtain call? I hadn't, but tenor Vittorio Grigolo took a wrong turn Saturday evening and ended up trapped behind the car, house left. He backtracked and made it to the front, but then, after the bow, instead of going to his designated lineup spot house right he ran all the way right off the stage. This made for an amusing "wasn't he supposed to be there?" moment for soprano Lisette Oropesa after her bow...

Through this hilarity, Grigolo's strongest trait -- his basic eagerness -- was evident. In the moment, he's less the bizarrely overhyped Domingo protege and more a young man thrilled by the success of the day. And in fact he doesn't do badly in this show: he's gone from a revival-wrecking hyperactive squirrel (in his 2010 debut Boheme) to a reasonably enjoyable hyperactive puppy.

The Duke requires less ensemble spirit than Rodolfo, of course -- next season's Boheme moviecast lineup remains inexplicable. But after a nervous and rhythmically overeager "Questa o quella", Grigolo actually delivered his best work in the next scene's duet with Gilda, honestly ardent and working with his partner instead of always just reaching for quick effect. His subsequent solos and part in the great last-act quartet were enjoyable enough, but more for his healthy sound than any particular musical shaping or insight (he still lacks the feel for the underlying movement-in-time of Verdi's lines and phrases). He doesn't much illuminate the show, but he doesn't detract from it either.

The sense of the action is left, as usual, to the father and daughter. As Gilda 2005 Met Council winner Lisette Oropesa gets her first romantic-era lead in the house, after earlier doses of Gluck and Mozart (as well as a bunch of Rhinemaiden appearances and the like). Her success has several parts, but the most important is probably the one where Diana Damrau totally whiffed: Oropesa offers the Gilda the story needs to make sense. Damrau gave another remix of her characteristic Gilda -- too clever by half, manipulative, and dismissive of Rigoletto's care. (This time we saw more frustration than wit, and a strange channeling of Mary Katherine Gallagher.) This is certainly one way Gilda might turn out, but it's the least interesting version of her: without love and virtue in the picture, only lusts and headlong impulses, why object to the Duke's court at all? Oropesa's Gilda is the necessary antithesis -- the "child of virtue", as Victor Hugo put it in explaining his original play -- and a very human one. Her Gilda is sympathetic and empathetic and inspires the best in her father and the Duke, but feels the pains of the world no less, whether moved by her father in their duet, or visibly shocked and traumatized (in an echo of her great Lucia) in the middle act, or just wholly deflated by disillusionment by the end of the quartet (thereby making unusual musical-dramatic sense of the choice to end without the standard interpolated climactic high note). But even in the extremity of these latter acts Oropesa's Gilda has that other, rarer quality of youth that Damrau's boundary-testing teenager omits: she still believes in virtue and goodness and -- even more rare -- continues to counsel and act on these qualities in the face of their opposites.

Oropesa also has, perhaps more noticably for some, a pure light lyric soprano that is as balanced and classically expressive as recent decades have seen. The sound still isn't big (not even at the top -- she's not a lyric coloratura with big top yelps), but it carries properly throughout without apparent limitations on color or dynamic variation. And the appeal is distinctive: yes, charming chirpers are always with us, but rarely married to Oropesa's expressive timbre and seriousness of characterization and purpose. Her "Caro nome", finished quietly with an apparently infinite trill a la Erna Berger, was the night's show-stopping highlight.

George Gagnidze, this run's Rigoletto, also lacks a bit of sheer sonic force -- his instrument is pointed for high climaxes, not full throughout in the classic "Verdi baritone" style of his predecessor Zeljko Lucic. Unfortunately, while Gilda's essential bits are done with a cooperative or silent orchestra, her father's big solo moments come quite deliberately over a greater roar from the pit, and his inability to master that with his own roar is a letdown. Still, he at least puts the character reasonably well forward, being less afraid than his predecessor to appear the schlub. However, I hope someone told him not to keep shifting his weight in the last scene (or better yet to sit/kneel on the ground), because bouncing the trunk of a car up and down while talking to his dying daughter therein looks ridiculous.

Enrico Giuseppe Iori, making his Met debut, played a more thuggish Sparafucile than has been the norm here of late; his sound was full enough though lacking the character of predecessor Stefan Kocan. Nancy Fabiola Herrera did her usual solid work as his sister. In the pit Marco Armiliato was lively and exciting as well as expectedly solid and sympathetic.

It's difficult to overstate how much the whole Met audience -- from longtime patrons to opera newbies -- seems to like this new production. (Now that the awful "Arab curse" nonsense has been scrubbed from the titles, there's not much reason not to.) Perhaps Gelb will learn the lesson that, his own characteristic production tastes aside, representational maximalism is what sells at the Met... but perhaps not.


  1. Your obvious infatuation with Ms. Oropesa's leads you to ascribe dramatic qualities to her portrayal that simply didn't exist. She IS a Mozart/Gluck soprano. Her voice is too light for Gilda. As to Ms. Damrau, whom based on this and other postings you obviously dislike, her portrayal of a protected and essentially clueless girl goes to her lack of understanding and feeling of true love, and perhaps her confusion between father/daughter and romantic love. None of this was evident in Ms. Oropesa's performance. She played a kid because that what she sounds like.

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  3. Wow wow wow! Have you really been there? Well yes, there was such an important accident with Grigolo coming out to the curtain call. .. I didn't have the chance to see what was happening on the stage as I was only listening, and so i was left without these rocking details... Why not be honest? Grigolo is just a brilliant Duke, his voice is among the most beautiful ones on today's opera stage, and his passion and devotion for his role should be an example for many others. He was the real star of la Scala Rigoletto last year, and in Met on 16th he sounded just as marvelous as then, if not even better. Best Regards, Lilit Bleyan

  4. Well.. I wasn´t there either but for what I listened it really was a wonderful performance of Mr. Grigolo, you begin the post with that "accident" and I think is not the main point, we´re humans, he´s human and that was a mistake, I don´t see it important. I have to agree with the previous response that Vittorio is a brilliant Duke, for me he embraces all the things that the role needs and must have, he's so passionate and have so much devotion when he sings and I know for sure that we have not seeing the best yet, Vittorio's greatness it´s coming...
    PS: Yes, he have one of the most beautiful voices of the opera stage..

  5. I have to agree with the above two posts – I also listened to the broadcast (on the 16th) so didn’t see what for me is irrelevant, the mistake with the curtain call. I thought that Grigolo’s singing was amazing and beautiful. I think that he is a wonderful Duke, I saw him twice in the ROH in London last year and he was little short of phenomenal - and that David McVicar production is very challenging, particularly for the Duke. I think Grigolo is easily the most convincing of today’s Dukes, he has the voice, the stage presence, the emotional intensity that make a great Duke. The Duke also has to be believable as the sort of person a sheltered, inexperienced girl like Gilda might fall in love with .....

    I also saw Grigolo last month in London, in La Bohème and he was also brilliant, he was easily the star of the show and didn’t engage in any ensemble wrecking activities ....I was also surprised to read this as most of the reviews I have read of his debut at the Met have been favourable and made no mention of ensemble wrecking.
    Beata Harrington (UK)


Absolutely no axe-grinding, please.