Metropolitan Opera Review: Rigoletto 2021-22
Updated: Jan 3
The Metropolitan Opera Bids Farewell to 2021 With A Solid Performance
The Metropolitan Opera rang in the new year with a performance of Bartlett Sher's new production of Verdi's timeless tragedy, Rigoletto.
The night was kicked off with a cheerful message from General Manager Peter Gelb to the audience and ended with shots of confetti flying throughout the theater to celebrate the dawn of a new year. The young maestro Daniele Rustioni led a solid performance, supported by a stellar cast.
Weimar ... Rigoletto ... New York?
Rigoletto was given a new look at the Metropolitan Opera through a joint production with the Staatsoper Berlin. Of the several new productions that the Met will stage this season, including Hamlet and Lucia di Lammermoor, this is the most ambitious, as it is replacing the controversial Michael Mayer production, which set Rigoletto in 1960s Las Vegas.
Bartlett Sher, who previously directed Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Le Comte Ory, and Le Contes d'Hoffman at the Met, sets the action in Weimar-era Germany. The stage and curtain are covered with the paintings of German artist George Grosz, symbolizing the fascistic nature of the times. There is a rotating structure in the center of the stage - much like that used in the Met's Le Nozze di Figaro - that spins from scene to scene.
Though a respectable concept, the spinning of the set in the background was more of a distraction than anything else, as the vast majority of the singing up until Act 3 occurred off the twirling structure. For instance, during the Duke's Act 2 cabaletta, "Possente amor", the set made a full rotation for no apparent purpose, leaving the audience perplexed and distracted.
The staging was very aesthetically pleasing, with the German paintings and sculptures displayed across the stage; however, at times Sher's direction did not allow for very much of a theatrical element to the opera. For example, in Act 3, during the very powerful trio in which Gilda ponders sacrificing herself for the Duke ("Ah, piu non ragiono"), the characters involved stood relatively still, and though the singing was excellent, the lack of drama from the stage made it less believable.
The production is not a reason NOT to see the opera - in fact, it is worth checking out - but it has some glaring problems.
The always-spectacular baritone Quinn Kelsey was universally praised for his 2018 rendition of the stern Giorgio Germont in La Traviata at the Met. The critically acclaimed Verdi baritone returns to the Met stage now singing the title role of Rigoletto, considered by many to be the pinnacle of the baritone repertoire.
His performance on new year's eve was excellent, as expected. His acting and stage presence are noteworthy, for whenever he took the stage, all attention was instantaneously drawn to him. He displayed the impressive ability to oscillate between a gentle and sweet timbre, such as in the Act 1 duet, "Deh, non parlare al misero", and a dramatic and powerful sound in others, such as in the Act 2 duet, "Si, vendetta, tremenda vendetta".
It would have been nice to see Kelsey unleash the sheer power of his voice more often, as he did so beautifully in his Act 2 aria "Cortigiani, vil razza dannata". For example, his two "La maledizione" at the end of the first and third acts could have been far more dynamic.
Kelsey has never sung Rigoletto on a stage as grand as the Met, so naturally, it will take some time to fully and comfortably step into the role. His performance was wonderful on opening night, and it should only get better with every performance.
Back to the Met
As Gilda, soprano Rosa Feola was wonderfully convincing as a naive and innocent young girl, betrayed and beguiled by the men around her. She sang a beautiful and tender "Caro nome"; however, the incredibly difficult coloratura did at times slip away from her. To her credit, she was particularly consistent throughout the opera in the middle and lower registers of her voice. Feola was best in the second act, which she capped off with a piercing high Eb.
Piotr Beczała, having sung the Duke numerous times in his illustrious career, was a villainous Duke. Like Feola, he sounded beautiful in a lower tessitura, but his vibrato was slightly wobbly when singing high notes. He sang a solid "Questa o quella" and a fine "La donne e mobile", and capped off his bouncy but satisfactory night with a masterful "Bella figlia dell'amor" which he sang seductively, perfectly demonstrating how the Duke charms and titillates his victims.
In the pair's Act 1 duets, "E il sol dell'anima" and "Addio, addio, speranza ed anima", they displayed amazing chemistry both dramatically and musically. At the end of the duets, however, their climactic high notes (high Db's) were overpowered by the orchestra.
Like Kelsey, I believe the superstar pair of lovers will improve as the performances go on, becoming more comfortable and confident in their performances.
More Good Performances
Some of the best performances of the night were given by minor characters.
Andrea Mastroni was a spectacular Sparafucile, dark and petrifying from the start of the opera to the end, remarkable as a singer and as an actor. He absolutely nailed a long low F in the first act, and his murder scene was chilling.
Varduhi Abrahamyan was a superb Maddalena, and the Met orchestra was magnificent as always, not letting the injustices they fac