by BRIAN KELLOW, TRISTAN KRAFT
Rawnsley in Miller's underworld Rigoletto
© Clive Barda/ArenaPAL 2013
Essential Antonio Pappano Primer:
Don Carlos at Théâtre du Châtelet, 1996. The recording is notable for its pacing: it's peaceful at times, propulsive at others, but the momentum doesn't falter once in three and a half hours. The overall sense Pappano gives us is that Verdi arranged for the orchestra to support every moment of the opera. A stellar cast — Karita Mattila as Elisabeth, Waltraud Meier as Eboli, Roberto Alagna as Carlos, Thomas Hampson as Rodrigue and José van Dam (pictured) as Philippe — makes this recording all the more exciting. Find the performance on CD (EMI) or, better yet, on DVD (Kultur), where one can see Luc Bondy's sparse production, Hampson's bouffant mullet, Mattila's great acting and the corpulent, creepy Grand Inquisitor of Eric Halfvarson. Jessica Duchen profiles Antonio Pappano in "Balancing Act."
Essential Rigoletto Update: Jonathan Miller's production for English National Opera, set in 1950s Little Italy, New York. Miller's concept turns Rigoletto into a bartender and the Duke into a mafioso. What's impressive is how legitimate all of the plot devices seem in their new context — the Duke's cohort, Gilda's naïveté, the ease with which Rigoletto finds a hired hit man. The Act III quartet puts Gilda and Rigoletto outside a windowed diner (redolent of Edward Hopper's "Nighthawks"); "La donna è mobile" plays on the jukebox, and the Duke seemingly lip-synchs to it. Kultur offers a DVD of the production premiere, with John Rawnsley as Rigoletto, Marie McLaughlin as Gilda, Arthur Davies as the Duke and John Tomlinson as Sparafucile. You may also be able to see it in person: ENO has revived the production ten times since its premiere. Michael Mayer, director of the Met's new Rigoletto, speaks with OPERA NEWS in "What Happens in Mantua Stays in Mantua."
Essential Barbara Barrie Moment: The "A&P" speech in the movie Breaking Away. One of the surprise box-office hits of 1979, Breaking Away is among the finest films in the long career of director Peter Yates (Bullitt, Eyewitness). Set in Bloomington, Indiana, it's a sharply observed comedy, written by Steve Tesich, about the conflict between I.U.'s privileged frat boys and the "cutters" — the working-class town boys whose fathers labor in the local limestone quarries. Dave Stohler (the gifted Dennis Christopher) is a townie who manufactures an Italian persona, Enrico Gismondi, in order to win a beautiful sorority girl (Robyn Douglass), even going so far as to serenade her with Flotow's "M'appari." Dave also dreams of winning the town's big bicycle race. Barrie plays Dave's mother, who harbors a few hidden dreams of her own. In the film's most moving scene, she flashes a never-used passport, telling her son that the only reason she has it is because someday there will be a new checker at the A&P, "and I'll be able to say, 'Here — this is who I am.'" She then gently tells Dave that she thinks he should pursue everything he wants while he's still young. As an actress, Barrie is noted for the spontaneity of her performances, for never striking a false note; her work here justly earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress and led to a burst of high-level film and television work through the 1980s. See "Listener of Note: Barbara Barrie."
Essential Sparafucile: Martti Talvela. For us, Rigoletto is one of Verdi's most unsettling works, yet the terrifying world of corruption, sadism and debauchery that the composer took great pains to portray seems strangely muted in many of the stage productions we've seen over the years. Sparafucile is our favorite role in Rigoletto; he's one of the darkest yet wittiest figures in any Verdi opera. At times, the composer seems on the verge of creating a buffo character, in tones of unrelieved black. The most impressive Sparafucile on recording is Talvela, on Decca's 1971 version, starring Joan Sutherland, Luciano Pavarotti and Sherrill Milnes, led by Richard Bonynge. The great Finnish bass gives Sparafucile a chillingly introverted quality; this is a man whose full capacity for evil seems concealed from everyone else in the opera. Both his high E-flat and his low F at the end of his duet with Rigoletto are unforgettable. See Garry Wills's essay on Rigoletto, "Shadow of a King."
BRIAN KELLOW, TRISTAN KRAFT
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