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VERDI: Rigoletto

spacer Kurzak, Schmid; Petean, Pirgu, Mastroni; Chor der Opera Zürich, Philharmonia Zürich, Luisi. Production: Gürbaca. Philharmonia Records 0203, 125 mins. (opera), 15 mins. (bonus), subtitled

Recordings Rigoletto DVD COver 815

A long table, tablecloth and chairs form the entire set for Tatjana Gürbaca’s Rigoletto, recorded in Zurich in June 2014. But if you expect the production then to focus on the essentials, it does not, largely because the scenic distractions Gürbaca stripped away are replaced by human ones.

At the Scene 1 party, the courtiers, not Rigoletto, are the clowns — hyper, painted-face freaks who make Rigoletto seem calm and normal. They join the Duke in pawing Countess Ceprano, the only woman present, and taunt Monterone with racy photos of his daughter. At Rigoletto’s, the scene-stealer is Giovanna, who brings sandwich bread and Nutella to T-shirted Gilda and her father, then paints her nails, chews gum, blows bubbles and smirks at their sentiments. As a student in a gray sweatshirt and yellow shorts, the Duke gives Gilda a pink chiffon skirt, and they strike a balletic pose for their duet’s cadenza. The courtiers approach during “Caro nome,” applaud it in showy slow motion, and place heels and a tiara on a happily abducted Gilda. 

Back at the palace, the table is a stage, the cloth held as a curtain as the courtiers enact the abduction for the Duke. After more freakish comportment, twelve of them sit as a jury during “Cortigiani” and turn thumbs down on Rigoletto. Even at Sparafucile’s, there’s no escaping the courtiers. After the Duke sings “La donna è mobile” to a crushed Gilda and enjoys her pain as he woos Maddalena, on come the courtiers in cardboard crowns to vocalize the wind, hold a transparent sheet, throw red paint on it, wrap Gilda in it and nod knowingly as the Duke reprises his canzone offstage. During “Lassù in cielo,” a similarly “bloodied” double lies down in place of Gilda, who walks to and falls off the end of the table and is caught by courtiers. Povero Rigoletto, upstaged to the bloody end. 

It would take Tito Gobbi to have much impact here. George Petean sings Rigoletto beautifully, but his voice sounds smooth and untroubled, and his visage doesn’t register great suffering. Lovely Aleksandra Kurzak sounds girlish in Act I, pure for the eager Gilda she plays, the tone whitening on high, the trills clean; thereafter, she increases the color and womanly expression. Saimir Pirgu sings prosaically as a shallow Duke who even in his Act II aria isn’t in love; his Act III canzone’s high B shades sharp. Andrea Mastroni is a solid Sparafucile, a normal-seeming assassin for hire. Judith Schmid is a bland Maddalena in pants. The solo and choral courtiers and the orchestra excel. Fabio Luisi’s persuasive pacing and varied dynamics key the best-conducted Rigoletto I’ve heard since the Giulini recording. spacer

MARK MANDEL

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