Verdi operas on CDs show variety in conductors' approaches. Sets vary in amount of fidelity to score and composer's intent
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For me, the best stereo ``Rigoletto'' is conducted by the veteran Italian maestro Carlo Maria Giulini, now superbly transferred to two CDs (Deutsche Grammophon 415 288-2). He finds a dark, Shakespearean quality to the work, and the Vienna Philharmonic gives him all the burnished colors and searingly intense playing he demands. He has opened all the cuts and has also allowed his singers several of the traditional interpolations, because he knows those notes enhance the drama of the moment when effectively done. Nevertheless, in other places, he eschews those traditions, thereby tightening the thrust of the musical action. Throughout there is the sense of a major musical exploration that reveals Verdi's innermost meanings.Skip to next paragraph
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Piero Cappuccilli's eloquently sung Jester is a thing of great constrasts - hate, love, tenderness, cruelty. The Duke is Pl'acido Domingo in one of his better recorded performances in opera. Ileana Cotrubas is a true lyric-soprano Gilda, affecting, fragile, yet capable of suggesting the resolve that leads to her sacrifice her life to save the caddish Duke. Nicolai Ghiaurov's Sparafucile is especially menacing, and Kurt Moll's Monterone and Elena Obraztsova's Maddalena are lavish casting turns indeed.
A quick listen to the last act of conductor Giuseppe Sinopoli's new recording (Philips digital two CDs, 412 592-2) will tell the listener all he or she needs to know: Sinopoli imposes aribtrary tempos and abrupt changes, and refuses all interpolated notes. In a word, he feels that sticking to most of the recent findings printed in the new critical edition of the score (though this recording is not listed as being of that edition) is enough to bring the work to life. Unlike Muti, Mr. Sinopoli occasionally gives his singers room to expand into a long arching phrase, and he does allow singers moments of sheer vocal splendor, albeit without interpolations.
Renato Bruson has always lacked the quality high notes a ``traditional'' Rigoletto demanded. Here he is allowed to ignore them, but his performance falls short - a musicianly but dramatically and vocally lightweight Jester.
Neil Shicoff's Duke does not capture his distinctive tenor voice in peak form. Brigitte Fassbaender is an adequate Maddalena, and Robert Lloyd a sonorous Sparafucile.
Finally, the Gilda, Edita Gruberova, is a mistress of the stratosphere denied her soaring moments of glory. She makes her mark nonetheless in her vivid portrayal.
On the handsomely engineered London ``Rigoletto'' (two analog CDs, 414 269-2), Joan Sutherland is the full-voiced Gilda with a dramatic coloratura that has the extension for the interpolations she inserts, as well as the vocal size to ride the considerable climaxes of several scenes. Though she gives a dramatically cool performance, her gloriously sung Gilda is one of the principal reasons for owning the set.
The other reason is Luciano Pavarotti's dashing Duke; he and Miss Sutherland work particularly well together. Martti Talvela is the earnest Sparafucile. Sherrill Milnes has his share of rough moments in the title role, and conductor Richard Bonynge is content to give a lyrical, rather low-key, singer-oriented performance.
Ironically, this vocally impressive ``Rigoletto'' proves that just singing the opera well is not enough to bring forth all its dramatic possibilities.