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The Metropolitan Opera

MICHAEL MAYER'S BUZZWORTHY “Rat-Pack” Rigoletto returned to the Met this season (seen Oct. 20). Mayer’s transplant of the story into 1960s Las Vegas received the lion’s share of the attention when this production made its debut in 2013, and it remains an entertainingly splashy affair. Mayer’s greater (if subtler) achievement, however, may well be the directorial clarity he brings to the proceedings. Supporting characters are spotlighted, as opposed to lost in the ensemble. Relationships are clarified, and motivations are given additional nuance or illumination. As the opening crowd music plays, we see Rigoletto rushing Gilda through the crowded main floor of the casino and right into an elevator. He wants her to go straight to her room without being corrupted by the various vices on display. Thus, his fierce paternal protectiveness is manifest long before they have their first scene together. Other similarly revealing touches abound.

As it happens, the Rigoletto/Gilda relationship is the real love story of this production, largely due to the fully fleshed, multidimensional characterizations provided by George Gagnidze and Olga Peretyatko respectively, and the palpable chemistry between them. Gagnidze, who has appeared in this production previously, deploys a rugged, expressive baritone that simmers with feeling. At moments of high emotion, he turns into a powerhouse, unleashing a granite wall of sound. Peretyatko has a sweet soprano with a darkish coloring, and a vibrato whose pleasant tremor adds a girlish finish to her mature sound. Her “Caro nome” was somehow breathless and well supported at the same time; she turned it into an acting piece, using her roulades almost inquisitively, as if she were exploring the myriad mysteries contained in the maelstrom of emotion taking over her. Together, Gagnidze and Peretyatko were tremendously moving, their Act II duet virtually pulsing with grief as her lines ornamented his.

Stephen Costello’s Duke was not quite in the same league. Though possessed of a sinewy tenor that rings appealingly in his upper range, Costello had pitch problems that made him sound unsteady, plus a tendency to rush his phrases. (For his part, conductor Pablo Heras-Casado drew thrilling sounds from the Met Orchestra, but didn’t seem terribly interested in staying with the singers.) Costello’s scenes with Peretyatko brought out the best in him; turning on the seductive charm added a radiant glow to his voice. His “La donna è mobile,” however, was lacking in charisma—it wasn’t clear what he was feeling or thinking, and he barely sustained the last note. 

Stefan Kocán’s Sparafucile sounded like he could drill into a safe with the laser focus of his menacing bass. As his sister Maddalena, the alluring mezzo Katarina Leoson, in her Met debut, seemed underpowered at first, but she held her own in the quartet, and in her solo passages revealed a distinctive, richly colored timbre. Stefan Szkafarowsky’s Monterone had a thick, marbled bass voice and his curse reverberated powerfully. Lighting designer Kevin Adams’ storm effects, in which the lightning flashes across the crush of white and blue neon that forms the backdrop of Sparfucile’s seedy club, remains a dazzling effect.  —Joshua Rosenblum 

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