BWW Review: Laugh a Little, Cry a Little for Met's Well-Sung RIGOLETTO

BWW Review: Laugh a Little, Cry a Little for Met's Well-Sung RIGOLETTO
Nadine Sierra and Vittorio Grigolo.
Photo: Marty Sohl/The Met

No matter what one thinks of the Met's transfiguration of Verdi's RIGOLETTO from Francesco Maria Piave's Mantua to '60s Las Vegas--I personally like much of this "Rat Pack" production from director Michael Mayer--the singing at Saturday's performance [the second of the season] was first rate.

At the top was the gorgeous Gilda of soprano Nadine Sierra, followed by the tortured Rigoletto of baritone Robert Frontali and over-the-top Duke of tenor Vittorio Grigolo, with the slimy Sparafucile of Stefan Kocan thrown in for very good measure.

Mayer had a good idea in turning the Duke into a lounge lizard in the proportions of Sinatra but when he turned the jester into a "Don Rickles-type"--famed for his zingers--he forgot to actually come up with a character surrounding the description. Why didn't he fit some stage business to make better sense of it?

None of the singers I've heard in the role quite figured out how to fill out the character in this production--though Zeljko Lucic came close once, after giving a bland premiere--and neither did Frontali. But no matter. His heart-wrenching singing and acting made up for Mayer's shortcut version of the role and his rapport with Sierra sealed the deal. His angry "Cortigiani!" (as he chastised the Duke's men for kidnapping his daughter) was another highlight.

BWW Review: Laugh a Little, Cry a Little for Met's Well-Sung RIGOLETTO
Robert Frontali and Nadine Sierra.
Photo: Marty Sohl/The Met

I was a little concerned at the start that Sierra was a bit too "take charge" for the virginal Gilda but that changed by the time she was kidnapped and stuffed into the sarcophagus (which looks like the one the Met Museum is returning to Egypt as illegal loot). Sierra gave a ravishingly sung performance, both in her solo arias (easily singing "Caro nome" while lying on her back) and in the ensemble pieces--in particular, her duets with Frontali and the "Bella figlia" quartet at Sparafucile's hideaway.

Grigolo is...Grigolo. Nobody doubts he can sing, but his hammy acting and mannerisms (eg, standing on his toes when he hits a high note) sometimes gets in the way of giving a more satisfying performance. Even here, where the Duke can be rightfully played to the hilt, he started off at such a feverish pitch that it seemed he had nowhere to go.

Happily, he was better under control after "Questa o quella" and hit all the notes [and high notes] that make the character reprehensible yet somehow irresistible to Gilda. (Clearly, he is capable of a more measured take on a character, as he showed with his Des Grieux in Massanet's MANON with Damrau, though he was the most wild and crazy Rodolfo in BOHEME that I've ever seen.) He gave a first-rate "La donna e mobile" in Act III

I wish that the Met would find something meatier for Kocan, though the repertoire's not big on roles for beefy basses like his. He was a more youthful Commendatore that usual in the recent DON GIOVANNIs but from his first outing as Sparafucile when this production was new, he's owned the role, making it sleazy as it deserves yet not unappealing.

Mezzo Ramona Zaharia had a good debut as Maddalena (Sparafucile's sister) but I long for the days when Isola Jones sang the pants off it. One more notable entry in the cast: mezzo Samantha Hankey--who I've watched since her days at Juilliard--as an earthy Countess Ceprano.

The Met's great male chorus under Donald Palumbo was in as fine form here as it recently was for LA FILLE DU REGIMENT, and conductor Nicola Luisotti had the Met orchestra charging through to the unhappy ending, under the revivals' stage director Gregory Keller.

BWW Review: Laugh a Little, Cry a Little for Met's Well-Sung RIGOLETTO
Vittorio Grigolo (c). Photo:
Marty Sohl/The Met

One can't talk about this production without mentioning the stage design by Christine Jones, which projects all the gaudiness that the production concept calls for. I love her use of neon in the last act, reflecting the approaching storm in perfect harmony, with Kevin Adams' lighting design. Susan Hilferty's garish costumes also hit the right note, but also give Rigoletto the fatherly cardigan that helps him play up that side of the character.

Additional performances of RIGOLETTO will take place on February 19 and 23 matinee; March 1, 6, 9, 15, 20; April 26, May 1, 4mat, 10. Curtain times vary; complete schedule here, along with some casting alternates. Running time is 3 hours and 11 minutes, two intermissions.

Tickets begin at $25; for prices, more information, or to place an order, please call (212) 362-6000 or visit www.metopera.org. Special rates for groups of 10 or more are available by calling (212) 341-5410 or visiting www.metopera.org/groups.

Same-day $25 rush tickets for all performances of Rigoletto are available on a first-come, first-served basis on the Met's Web site. Tickets will go on sale for performances Monday-Friday at noon, matinees four hours before curtain, and Saturday evenings at 2pm. For more information on rush tickets, click here.

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From This Author Richard Sasanow

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