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.