[Met Performance] CID:255250

Metropolitan Opera House, Thu, October 12, 1978

Rigoletto (556)
Giuseppe Verdi | Francesco Maria Piave
Cornell MacNeil

Judith Blegen

Duke of Mantua
Neil Shicoff

Isola Jones

Kurt Moll

John Cheek

James Atherton

Robert Goodloe

Count Ceprano
Philip Booth

Countess Ceprano
Loretta Di Franco

Ariel Bybee

Alma Jean Smith

Domenico Simeone

Giuseppe Patanè

John Dexter

Tanya Moiseiwitsch

Lighting Designer
Gil Wechsler

Norbert Vesak

Rigoletto received thirteen performances this season.

Review 1:

Review of Ivan Katz in the Register

Met Offers Exciting 'Rigoletto'

Giuseppe Verdi's "Rigoletto," the story of a strong man attacked at his one weak spot, had its season premiere at the Metropolitan Opera on October 12. Those of us who thought that the old repertoire war horse couldn't provide excitement anymore were in for a shock.

Any two-bit opera company can present a neglected or unheard of opera and make a success out of it, mainly because the unfamiliar music becomes the focus of attention. But with something as well known as "Rigoletto," cutting corners with the singers or the conductor is a sure route to disaster.

The Met's current 'Rigoletto" is the John Dexter production it unveiled last year. The centerpiece of the Dexter set is a massive rococo wedding cake that appears in various incarnations throughout the opera. Doubtless the production was brought in under budget, but the confusion that this setting creates is inexcusable. By the final act the audience is understandably inclined to give up trying to figure out who is coming from where and for what purpose. That this detracts from the score can scarcely be gainsaid.

The cast that the Met has assembled for this production of the cunning little hunchback is spectacular - with one exception. Cornell MacNeil, as they say, has been around. In recent years his voice has taken on a dryness that has caused him a more than fleeting relationship with off notes. However, on that night his voice was as fluid and as supple as I have ever heard it. His was a brilliantly shaded and nuanced Rigoletto. Granted MacNeil is still no actor, but the point is that his voice as so good that his "acting" could be overlooked.

Judith Blegen's Gilda positively stole the show. A soprano of near world-class stature for some time now, she has finally arrived singing with a voice that was all innocence and freshness, it was not at all hard to imagine the sly Duke ingratiating himself into her bedchamber in a moment of girlish infatuation. Blegen's "Caro nome" still rings in my head as the best rendition I have ever heard of that divine aria.

Kurt Moll provided a Sparafucile of menacing face and pitch-black voice, if his costuming wasn't spine-chilling enough, his voice certainly was. Moll has that rare and delightful combination of vocal power and great technique that makes the bass-baritone some thing special. Isola Jones' Maddalena was also first rate.

The sore spot in the casting was Neil Shicoff who had the unenviable task of playing the Duke of Mantua. One of the great operatic playboys, the Duke, as Shicoff played him, was cold by the numbers, and would have had difficulty persuading a paid wrench to take up with him. Simply put, his voice is strictly Triple A ball. His "Questo e quella" was a disappointment, his "La donne e mobile" was all notes and no music. Understandably he did not even try to hit the high C in the latter aria. At the opera's premiere at the Teatro La Fenice, Verdi held the music of "La donne e mobile" until the last minute, lest every gondolier in Venice use it to displace "Santa Lucia" from the top of the charts. The importation of one of those gondoliers would have been an improvement over Mr. Shicoff.

Conductor Giuseppe Patane led the somewhat improved Met orchestra in a reading that was crisp, fast paced, and well suited to the talents of his singers. The orchestra still has trouble with occasional errant notes not fortissimos that thunder at everyone onstage at the moment, but let's face it, the Met's pit orchestra remains perhaps the best in America today.

All things considered, the Met's "Rigoletto" is a well-balanced, well-cast production that proves that there is life in the old curse yet. For an opera that was originally entitled "L'Maledizione." "Rigoletto" at the Met is an unalloyed blessing.

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