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Rigoletto good, Cosi Fan Tutte mediocre

Metropolitan Opera: Verdi's Rigoletto, April 25, Mozart's Cos`i fan Tutte, April 27, Wang Center, Boston.

Thursday night the Metropolitan Opera presented an outstanding production of Verdi's Rigoletto. Each singer created a full flesh and blood Verdi character to give the performance power; and, singing of high-calibre endowed it with beauty.

The opera opens to an evocative setting: A candle-lit tower rose toward the sky, and it was to be cleverly used throughout the evening. Dano Raffanti provided us with a Duke of Mantua who could have taught Don Giovanni a few lessons: His opening aria, Questo o quella was delivered with a tone of silky rapture. No woman was going to escape this Duke's clutches. His declaration of love to Gilda, E il sol dell'anima was invincible, the gentleness in the orchestra helping to lull the Duke's prey into acquiescence.

Throughout the evening Raffanti's strong and flexible voice provided irresistible aural seduction: His La donna `e mobile was splendid, and further enhanced by the freshness of orchestral sound.

Aldo Protti gave us a deep look at Rigoletto, the jester who, while under the curse of Monterone, hires an assasin to kill the Duke, but ends up accidentally paying to have his daughter, Gilda, murdered instead. The relationship between Rigoletto and Gilda (sung by Roberta Peters) was especially well developed, the crusty voice of the former in fine balance with the sweetness in the singing of the latter. Protti, then, was as powerful in tenderness as in rage, and the two emotions were grippingly combined in the horrific instant when the body in the sack is found to be Gilda's; the final duet between Rigoletto and Gilda, Lass`u in cielo was haunting.

Roberta Peters sung caro nome with both feeling and clarity. Winds in the orchestra gave out a delicate fragrance to accompany her stunningly lyrical rendition. This was a Gilda to remember for a long time.

Richard J. Clark produced a dark and steely Monterone, not someone whose curse you'd want to mess with; and John Macurdy made for a sinister Sparafucile, the assasin.

Ensemble scenes were well staged: The quartet Bella figlia dell' amore was particularly effective, the relaxed but taut pace of the orchestra adding drama to the activities on stage. Indeed, though singing was phenomenal, and acting -- under the direction of David Sell -- was powerful, it was the emotional thrust of Nello Santi's conducting that lent especial energy and power to the Met's Rigoletto to make it into a rivetting evening of entertainment.

The last night of the Metropolitan Opera's visit to Boston was disappointing: Mozart's most touching and telling work, Cos`i fan Tutte, was reduced to a series of arias, some of them beautifully sung, but with no dramatic continuity between them, and little understanding of subtleties of characters, story or music.

The most immediately grating impression came from the sliding panels that made up the simply hideous sets. Supposed, one assumes, to give an atmosphere of artificiality (Cos`i fan Tutte is often thought -- incorrectly -- to be the most artificial of operas), they merely helped reduce the production to the level of high school amateurishness characteristic of Graziella Sciutti's boring staging.

The story of Cos`i concerns two couples, a philosopher's assertion to the two doting men that all women are fickle, and the test of this theory by an attempt by the men to disguise themselves as Albanians and seduce each other's lovers. The magic of the opera comes from the evaporation of the artifice that governs the relationships between the original pairings as the new couplings provide settings for the development of true affection and attachment.

It is important, therefore, for the characters to develop as the evening proceeds, but Gail Dubinbaum as Dorabella and Brian Schexnayder as Guglielmo remained coolly detached until the end. The aria Il core vi dono was particularly weakly done. This aria is pivotal to the whole opera, for it is at this stage that Guglielmo slips from pretending to seduce Dorabella to really wanting her. Mozart's music here is all-enveloping, full of romance, of smooth lyricism to mark Guglielmo's departure from staccato clownery to take on the role of romantic lover. Jeffrey Tate's conducting of the orchestra willed the two into musical partnership, but on the stage there was no chemistry between them; heartbeats in the music indicated the fusing of Dorabella and Guglielmo, but the voices and hearts on stage remained cold.

Carol Vaness sang Fiordiligi and, in the course of the evening did produce some technically stunning singing. But, for all its virtuosity, her rendition of Come scoglio left one cold. And, in per pieta, a deeply psychological aria in which Fiordiligi throws off the inhibitions of superficial propriety to allow herself to fall in love with someone to whom she is so well emotionally-matched, the audience could feel no transition, no drama in voice to accompany the story in the music. It was only by Fra gli amplessi that Vaness took a turn for the better -- more relaxed, there was at last color and feeling to her voice; her conquest by David Rendall's Ferrando could then be naturally done and, aided by truly intoxicating music, made for one of the few high-spots of the evening.

Rendall has a beautifully lyric tenor voice, used to exellent effect in Eugene Onegin earlier last week, and had earlier been responsible for a sublime Un aura amorosa. In interaction with Vaness, however, he also failed to transcend the emotional difficulties of Mozart's most unfathomable and elusive writing until that final inevitable conquest, which was potently executed.

The only consistently strong performer was Betsy Norden who createst the sauciest, most amusing Despina ever. Her voice had a compelling prettiness to it, and her acting showed a keen understanding not only of the humor of the piece, but of the emotional flow of the opera. She can be credited with bringing much brightness to an otherwise shoddy production which the Met. would do well to leave in New York next time they venture to set foot in Boston.

Jonathan Richmond->