On January 22, the Royal Opera House Muscat presented its final performance of “Rigoletto”.
That night, the opening cast returned in Franco Zeffirelli’s final production. The result was a performance filled with excellent vocals that at times lacked drama and felt disconnected from the glorious production.
A return to ancient times
Ambrogio Maestri led the cast singing the title role. Maestri is one of those old-school singers who stands tall and sings with emotion. He was most effective when he did just that, stood in the middle of the stage and sang with his authoritative power. However, when he had to throw a chair or sit on a seat or on the floor, every move seemed planned and overly calculated. He also sometimes lacked real interaction with his colleagues, which made it difficult to relate to the circumstances of the story. For example, the relationship with Gilda was a little distant, especially during duets and moments when the character is asked to caress her daughter in distress. Vocally, he also seemed to never blend in with Giuliana Gianfaldoni’s Gilda as he constantly overpowered her with his big voice. And suddenly, it was hard to really believe in the drama of this character.
Nonetheless, Maestri sang with such vulnerability throughout, especially in her two solo showcases. Her “pari siamo” was sung with intimacy and allowed the audience to see great confusion in the character. He displayed a mix of booming sound and pianissimos. He also gave emotion to some of his lines by emphasizing the text with precision.
In his aria “Cortigianni vil razza”, his voice obtains a grainy and dry sound, effective for the moment. Throughout the aria, there were plenty of breathless moments that created a more raw take on the dramatic moment. His final”Pieta” was exceptional as it transitioned from a piano to a gritty fort.
I admire Maestri’s voice technique as he is able to move up his upper register with ease and he has demonstrated a booming sound, especially in his recitatives. His “Si Vendetta” which, although not the most effective, filled with energy and passion.
innocent and beautiful
Giuliana Gianfaldoni performed the role of Gilda with crisp precision and beautiful tone. From the moment she stepped onto the stage, her round leggera voice sounded precise and connected. She used a beautiful pianissimo dynamic in her opening duet with Rigoletto, displaying an ingenue in every sense of the word. Her clean, beautifully sung phrases were also sweet, emphasizing Gilda’s purity. When her father left, the soprano’s expressions were ones of guilt. But it quickly turned into a beautiful dreamlike expression when she sang “Signor born principle io lo vorrei”. In her duet that followed, she was completely transfixed and seduced by the Duke and this was all the more present in her “Caro nome”, which she sang with great care. Rising to her upper range, she floated the notes to create an ethereal sound that slowly dissipated into the auditorium. The coloratura lines were also notably sung with flexibility. It was a Gilda delighted by love at first sight.
In the second act, Gianfaldoni clung to innocence while singing “Tutte le feste al tempio”. The soprano used her soft sound to express guilt and pain and never went beyond a mezzo forte. This contrasted with Maestri’s more powerful voice. It was quite amazing to hear the control the soprano had of every dynamic and every phrase and to hear how easily it flowed into the auditorium. The end of “B, Vendetta” was the first time the soprano truly unleashed the full volume of her voice as she delivered a powerful “E flat.”
In the third act, Gianfaldoni’s voice blossomed as it gained strength in the quartet and trio. If it never lost the precision or the initial delicacy, the voice carried the sets with roundness. “Lassu in Ciel” was angelic as Gianfaldoni returned to floating sustained notes and pianos. His last line, however, was emotional to highlight Gilda’s death. It was perhaps the soprano’s least beautiful song, but it was just as effective.
Gianfaldoni is a rising star whose voice is sure to grow and gain more color and after this technical display there is no doubt in my mind that she is one to watch.
As Duke of Mantua, Dmitry Korchak was impressive as he portrayed a frivolous and playful duke. He sang with fiery passion and sparkling timbre and it was hard to look away from him when he was on stage. Her “Quest o quella” was a virtuoso singing display that blended a full voice with more suave and sultry phrasing. His duet with Countess Ceprano was also filled with that same passionate intensity and it was hard not to fall for the duke’s lies.
In his scene with Gilda, Korchak launched the “T’amo!” You love; Ripetilo sì caro accento” with vigor. This led to a seductive “È il sol dell’anima, la vita è amore” which Korchak caressed with a sweet sound that radiated throughout. As he continued the line, his singing became more passionate and his voice got a fuller sound. Once Gianfaldoni joined the duo, the two were irresistible, singing with impeccable connection and sound. It was truly a transcendent moment.
In the second act, Korchak’s passion culminated in “Ella mi fu Rapita,” which he delivered with vigor; one actually gets the feeling that the shallow character might really be in love with Gilda. The “Among veder le lagrime” was pure passion and Korchak displayed the bel canto line for which he is well known. It was exciting to hear the tone so balanced in the evening and how it could go from forte to piano without forcing the sound. However, during the “Possente amor mi chiama” cabaletta which is a demonstration of the Duke’s pompous attitude, Korchak struggled to achieve a pure sound and sometimes sounded a little tense. Nevertheless, we can salute the flexibility of the line and the display of an impeccable coloratura.
Act three was the weakest for the tenor as he seemed to have a little trouble with ‘La donna è mobile’, his sound working at times. His phrasing was always smooth and the final coloratura cadence was marvelous and virtuosic. His opening lines of the quartet, “Bella figlia dell’amore” were filled with longing but as he reached the upper range, the voice began to acquire an unpleasant timbre that became somewhat nasal and uneasy. Maybe it was due to the whole physicality of the production because Korchak was committed to seducing this Maddalena. But it came at a cost as he kept increasing the volume of his voice and on repeating the phrase “consolar” the voice was a bit unsteady and weary.
This is only the third production in which Korchak sings the Duke and based on his display, he will only get better as the role settles into his lyrical voice.
Yulia Mazurova and Riccardo Zanellato performed the roles of Maddalena and Sparafucile with great success. Unlike most productions that seem to show siblings of the same age, in this cast there was a clear age distinction and it created an interesting dynamic. Mazurova gave Maddalena the usual seductive and playful attitude that bit into the text during the quartet. But during the threesome, she revealed an innocence that resembled Gilda’s. She almost looked like the Duke’s next victim as she desperately convinced her brother to save Mantua. This was underscored of course by the singer’s more lyrical mezzo as opposed to the heavy vocals that are sometimes used for the role. Meanwhile, Zanellato, who had a deep, gritty bass that resonated powerfully, was bossy and protective. He was violent towards his sister, which created a tense dynamic and a wonderful counterpart to the toxicity of the male characters in this opera. Maddalena seemed to feel sorry for herself at the end as she was caught between two violent men.
In the pits, Jan-Latham-Koenig returned with mixed results. The conductor has a gift for powerful crescendos and forts which are effective for this dramatic work. There is also precision with the rhythms. However, there was a bit of sloppiness at times, especially with the violin solos. During “Caro nome”, the violinist was harsh in his phrasing. The sound clashed with Gianfaldoni’s refined voice and distracted his beautiful phrases. The same could be said of the violins in the duet in act two which, once again, sounded too brash. However, the cello solo in the Rigoletto aria was soft and lush and followed Maestri’s tempos perfectly. Plus, it paired well with the haunting baritone voice. The wind section was also outstanding and well balanced with Gilda’s line. Many times it sounded like the flute solo and the soprano were singing as a duet.