There are very few operas that have such an effect on me ; wherever I am, as soon as I listen to a few notes from Verdi’s Rigoletto, it’s as if my world stopped, and I have to do nothing else but listen to the music, as long as it goes on.
Sunday evening, as I was programming my Hi-Fi system for my Monday morning wake up, I discovered that this week’s opera broadcast of Radio Classique was indeed Rigoletto (since, for no apparent reason, Radio Classique seems unwilling to share this kind of info at the moment, either on its site or on Operacast).
So naturally I rushed into my armchair and didn’t get up until the opera was over.
The version I got to listen was the famous Kubelik’s recording from La Scala, with a cast that can only make your head spin;
Rigoletto: Carlo Bergonzi
Il duca di Mantova : Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
Gilda: Renata Scotto
Sparafucile : Ivo Vinco
Maddalena : Fiorenza Cossotto
Il Conte di Monterone : Lorenzo Testi
This recording is believed to be, by many, the best Rigoletto you’ll ever find.
Not everybody agrees with that statement, though.
I certainly don’t.
And the main reason is that, however great the singers might be, the success of a version over another mostly lies with the conductor.
People too often underestimate the role of this buffoon gesticulating in front of the orchestra with awkward movements and a baton that seems to enhance his craziness.
Yet, a bad orchestration can ruin any fantastic performance a singer can have.
It certainly can prevent me from listening to some recordings; take the Giulini’s Traviata featuring Maria Callas for instance ; or the Plasson’s Pêcheurs de Perles.
Well, the Kubelik’s Rigoletto rather falls in that category; too slow, too heavy, too rigid, not Italian enough. Not a great performance from the conductor, for sure.
Especially if you compare it with the recording Riccardo Muti made in the mid 90s (live performance from La Scala).
That’s why the perfect recording is almost impossible to get; the conductor has to be perfect, the orchestra, the chorus, all the cast members… and I’m not even talking about a performance on stage, where you can add the director, the dramaturge, the choreographer, the setting director, the costume design director, the lighting director, the make-up artist…
YouTube extracts from Muti’s Rigoletto ;
NB. Notice how Roberto Alagna was young and thin, then
- « Questa o quella » (Act I, sc1) Il duca di Mantova
- « Addio, addio, speranza ed anima » (Act I sc.12) duet Gilda / Il duca di Mantova
- « Caro nome » (Act I sc.14) Gilda / Coro
- « Ella mi fu rapita! » (Act II sc.1) Il duca di Mantova
- « Ei vien! Silenzio! » (Act II sc.3) Coro / Il duca/Rigoletto
- « Ciel! Damni corragio! » (Act II sc.6) duet Gilda / Rigoletto
- « La donna è mobile » (Act III) Il duca di Mantova
- end of the opera (Act III) duet Rigoletto / Gilda