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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 23, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 39
Two Blu-ray Rigolettos: 1982 with Pavarotti vs. 2013 Met Live in HD
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Two Blu-ray Rigolettos: 1982 with Pavarotti vs. 2013 Met Live in HD

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

Here are the two teams:

1982
Rigoletto:
Ingvar Wixell
The Duke: Luciano Pavarotti
Gilda: Edita Gruberova
Sparafucile: Ferruccio Furlanetto
Conductor: Riccardo Chailly
Director: Jean-Pierre Ponnelle

2013
Rigoletto: }eljko Lucic
The Duke: Piotr Beczala
Gilda: Diana Damrau
Sparafucile: `tefan Kocán
Conductor: Michele Mariotti
Director: Michael Mayer

Here are the two recordings: Verdi's Rigoletto with Ingvar Wixell and Luciano Pavarotti and the Wiener Philharmoniker (Deutsche Grammophon) and Verdi's Rigoletto with }eljko Lucic and Piotr Beczala and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra (Deutsche Grammophon).



Let's start the competition by saying that all the singers are good enough but that no living tenor (except maybe Michael Fabiano) can come close to Pavarotti's vocal ease and beautiful Italian sound. Beczala is cute, has all the notes and the stamina to sustain them, but his production lacks Italianate bel canto style and ease. Both tenors act very well, and Pavarotti at this age is quite attractive, even given his girth. He alone is almost enough reason to choose this set over the newer one.

The two soprano leads have a similar difference: Gruberova is a true coloratura soprano with a devout following worldwide, and she sings with great ease and precision. Damrau does well, but with less facility and precision. Neither women appear young enough for this not-so-innocent girlish part.

Another strong point for the 1982 team is its Rigoletto, Ingvar Wixell, whose acting far surpasses his competition. Both he and Lucic are good singers, but Lucic is a cypher as the tragic hunchback. I saw Wixell on stage at the Royal Opera in London some years later, when he nearly died vocally multiple times, hardly making it through the performance. But in 1982 he had no such vocal problems. The role is, after all, the center of the show, and Wixell keeps us interested while Lucic is boring.

One should mention here that the singers in Ponnelle's production have a dramatic advantage over the Met's team, for they are acting in a film, not singing live on stage. I'm pretty sure they are lip-synching to their own pre-recorded singing, but it is far and away the best lip-synching I have ever seen. I'm still not absolutely sure, but I think they are in fact singing during the filming, but with the film soundtrack taken from off-camera recordings. Suffice to say, this is the only opera 'film' I've seen where the lip-synching does not bother me.

Both basses singing Sparafucile are excellent, but Furlanetto has the advantage over handsome Kocán because the Met's modernized production has placed this initial encounter between Rigoletto and Sparafucile in a fancy Las Vegas casino, thus missing a dramatic contrast in the score. The brightly lit, raucous party preceding their meeting is meant to emphasize the dark, foreboding 'back alley' negotiation with a killer. The 1982 film gets this perfectly.

The two productions could not be more different. Ponnelle's show is traditional in all respects, and it is very lavish and beautifully filmed. The initial party scene is borderline lewd, nearly an orgy, and much more effective than Mayer's updating, which features many neon signs and modern dress. Perhaps if you've seen this opera too many times, this self-conscious modernization is fun. But I don't find it has anything new to say. And the distinctly non-religious Las Vegas setting makes Monterone's curse, which is so vivid in the hunchback's fears, almost meaningless. Rigoletto is a near-perfect opera; it works just fine as written. Former Seattle Opera Director Speight Jenkins said, 'You can't kill this opera; it always works for the audience.'

The modern Met Blu-ray, of course, has the technical advantage of excellent wide-screen video and superior surround sound, but the Ponnelle film has been well transferred to disc. The old format (for older TV's) ceases to matter once the eye becomes dazzled by the lavish settings in real architecture, rather than limited sets. And the sound is surprisingly good.

New? Or old? It's a matter of taste. I like some modern productions very much, but in this case I vastly prefer the older version, both for the singing/acting and for its truthfulness to the brilliance of the score.

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu.

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