I must confess, that one of the main reasons I so wanted to see this production of Rigoletto at the Teatro alla Scala was to hear and see the legendary baritone, Leo Nucci, now 77, in the title role. The whole experience was an even greater treat than I had expected – largely because a young Albanian soprano, of whom I have never heard, Enkeleda Kamani, just blew me away with her performance as Gilda.
This is a classic production of Rigoletto. First staged in 1994. The director, Gilbert Deflo, made no attempts to modify the storyline or adapt it to any different era. Even the stage sets, designed by Ezino Frigerio, and the costumes, designed by Franca Squarciapino, are conventional, being appropriate to the 17th century.
This multi-layered opera in three acts, by Giuseppe Verdi to a libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, after Victor Hugo’s play Le roi s’amuse, is deeply dramatic and both emotionally and intellectually challenging. In Hugo’s play, the womanising, self-centred king, at the end is murdered. This narrative had to be modified to pass the local Austrian censorship prior to the first performance at Teatro La Fenice in Venice, on 11 March 1851. The Duke of Mantua replaced the king and the victim in the opera is an innocent, Gilda. She is the daughter of Rigoletto the court jester, and her death secures the triumph of the absolute ruler marked by of the catchy tenor aria, “La donna è mobile”.
Leo Nucci whenever he is on stage, whether with the Duke or his courtiers or at home with his daughter Gilda, has such force of personality that all eyes are on him throughout. He limps about the stage, dressed in court jester livery or in his own rags, as an old man utterly devoted to his only child, Gilda. In his own home, he is the family man, the caring father, while in the Duke’s presence he is rather vile and a despised character. Nucci, exquisitely and magisterially illuminates the different facets of this complex character, a man who is a survivor in a hostile environment. He ruthlessly supports the Duke in procuring young virgins, for the purpose of seducing or even raping them, yet in his own abode, he is a caring and loving father. When he goes to the palace in search of his missing daughter, Rigoletto is met by the taunts of the courtiers. He responds by breaking into ‘Cortigiani, vil razza dannata’ when it dawns on him that his daughter has been kidnapped and is being sexually exploited by the Duke. Nucci’s performance together with Verdi’s superb composition makes you feel that you are in the eye of a storm, with a rapid build-up of dramatic tension.
Nucci’s voice is rich and sonorous at its core with a touch of hoarseness on the edges. He is also a great dramatic performer. His perfect characterisation and vocal command interact powerfully with the music exposing the complexity of his role.
Enkeleda Kamani, the gifted young Albanian soprano, as Gilda, brought the house down with her alluring voice. Her slender figure and beautiful face complemented by a gentle demeanour and a heavenly lyric and dramatic soprano voice captured hearts and minds. She emanates both the innocence of her character and the covert sophistication that the role requires. Her voice and her acting shine with the love she has for the Duke and also for her father.
The Duke is performed by Chuan Wang, a 30 years old, Chinese tenor, whose legato and phrasing, as well as his acting, are dwarfed in the presence of Kamani and Nucci. The rest of the cast acquitted itself competently. The orchestra under the direction of the accomplished conductor, Daniel Oren, offered a feast of superbly executed, exceptionally detailed playing of this masterpiece that secured a memorable evening at this lavish yet cosy opera House. Oren’s understanding of Verdi is second to none and his musicianship, control and energy brought the piece alive.
- Music by Giuseppe Verdi
- Librettist: Francesco Maria Piave
- Conuctor: Daniel Oren
- Director: Gilbert Deflo Costumes Franca Squarciapino
- Sets: Ezio Frigerio and Costumes by Franca Squarciapino
- Cast inludes: Leo Nucci, Chuan Wang, Enkeleda Kamani,Toni Nežić, Caterina Piva, Giorgi Lomiseli, Valeria Girardello
- Teatro alla Scala
- Until 20 September 2019
- Running Time: 2 hours 55 minutes intermissions included