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Metropolitan Opera succeeds on reputation, fails in performance

RIGOLETTO
By Guiseppe Verdi.
Metropolitan Opera.
Conducted by Nello Santi.
Starring Richard Leech, Leo Nucci,
and Ruth Ann Swenson.
Lincoln Center, New York.

By Jonathan Richmond
Advisory Board

hope you won't get mugged with all those bags," said the bus driver as the geriatric vehicle lurched away from the airport, and I knew I was in New York. Given a choice of hub airports at which to change flights, I had chosen to come here on the way from San Francisco to Indianapolis in order to rectify the lack of operatic diet supplied in Boston with a dose of the best at The Met.

Unfortunately, The Met has such stature that not only does it have by far the best shot at tapping resources -- both financial and artistic -- but it can stage at least the occasional boring production and still get massive applause. The clapping is in proportion to the dollars paid rather than the music made.

Such is the case with the current Rigoletto, which can best be described as shapeless. The overall impression is of a lack of life. First of all, the set is dark for almost all of the piece, so poorly lit, in fact, that it is often difficult to make out the faces of the singers. Secondly, the action is static. Stage director Sharon Thomas goes for an old fashioned production in which the singers don't have to do much except open their mouths; and what comes out isn't exactly exhilarating, either.

came across muffled. His insipid characterization inspired the individual sitting two seats from me to fall asleep.

Leo Nucci's Rigoletto sank into the background: Verdi's larger than life character lacked emotion, making Nucci's contribution neither entertaining nor tragic. This Rigoletto never seemed believable.

, helped along by a beautiful flute introduction. That flute added a piquant touch once more at opera's end, exuding a lonely sigh of pain at Rigoletto's discovery of his daughter's body, and making up for Nucci's inability to communicate emotion himself.

Choral singing was more spirited than many of the solo contributions, injecting fresh air into this stale production. The orchestral performance under Nello Santi was competent, and at times more than that. The overall impression of this production was of boredom, nonetheless.

The subway train out of New York broke down for an hour. The check-in agent at the airport, where I presented myself 10 minutes after the alleged departure time, looked at my sweaty mass kindly and ordered an electric cart, into which suitcase and self were loaded to be propelled at high velocity to the distant gate 98. Goodbye, New York.