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*Rigoletto,* Jan 11, 2022

Esther and I saw *Rigoletto* at the Met on Jan 11, 2022. I was very excited to hear the rising American baritone Quinn Kelsey in the title role, I had heard him in *Don Carlo* in DC in 2018. That show opens with the tenor singing an aria and tenor Russell Watson had a very pleasant, secure voice. Then Kelsey came on, sang a few lines of recitative, and knocked me on my ass. I hadn't had such a visceral reaction to a voice since I heard Anna Netrebko for the first time at the Beverly Sills memorial concert in 2007. Both of them have drop-dead gorgeous voices, full of juice, full of personality, unmistakable.


So you can imagine my disappointment when I read in the Times that Kelsey had a cold or something (emphatically NOT CoViD) and had withdrawn from three performances, including the one I was hearing. The substitute was another young American baritone, Michael Chioldi. I decided to keep my mind open and give the guy a chance.


Here's Kelsey singing one of the highlights of the score, his aria "Cortigianni," in his first (and so far, only) performance in this production, on opening night, New Year's Eve:



This was a new production, directed by Bartlett Sher, who I know from his Broadway work (*South Pacific,* *The King and I,* etc). It was a very strong show, he delivered the story in an interesting, insightful way, brought out things I hadn't noticed before, and most importantly, never got in the way. I hope they keep this production for a good long time.


Chioldi was very good as Rigoletto. He has a handsome voice and is a talented performer, though unfortunately not in the ballpark of Kelsey. The most touching moment of his performance was when he took his bows. Of course he had the last bow, being the title character, and the audience went wild for him. This was the last of his three performances and he soaked it all in with such tenderness and joy.


Tenor Piotr Beczała played the Duke. I've heard him many times over the years and have always liked him. I think maybe this isn't the right part for him anymore, his voice has gotten a little thick and gooey for this role. I prefer a lighter, sweeter sound in this part (my previous Dukes were Ramon Vargas and Matthew Polenzani, both of whom were dreamy). Beczała's middle voice troubled me - - he was often a teensy bit flat in this range, but never in the top voice. I think it might be a placement issue for him, he should work on it.


I'd never heard of soprano Rosa Feola, who played Gilda. She was very strong, she has a lovely voice. But like Beczała, her voice was (in my opinion) a little too thick for this role. The high notes were a bit of a reach. I like a creamy sound in this rep, I'm not looking for a Roberta Peters kind of chiripiness, but Feola didn't seem quite comfortable with the highest notes. However, her singing in her death scene made me forgive everything. She had a stunning, arching lyricism, absolutely right for Verdi. I think she might have a first-class Aida in her future (but please, Signorina Feola, a few years off).

Conductor Daniele Rustioni brought out all of the dark and creepy colors in the score, though he didn't always keep things together - - a few fast moments in the first act were in danger of coming derailed. It's very complicated, I'm sure, and the orchestra is a long way away from the singers on the stage, but it's the conductor's job to keep it together, yes?


There was one moment in the production that was pretty amazing, major snaps to director Bartlett Sher for this moment. It might be a little complicated to explain. Rigoletto is the court jester in the court of the Duke. Gilda is Rigoletto's daughter, though the court thinks she's his girlfriend. The guys in the Duke's court decide to pull a prank on Rigoletto and kidnap Gilda and bring her to the Duke so he can shtup her. Aside from not knowing she's Rigoletto's daughter, neither do they know that she's also the Duke's girlfriend - - they met in church, he's pretending to be a young student, yadda yadda.


So when the Duke sees Gilda has been delivered to him, he's overjoyed and sings a cabaletta, a fast, bouncy happy song. In this staging, he sees Gilda but she doesn't see him, and while he's singing his cabaletta we see three older women in the Duke's court undressing Gilda, putting her in a white satin nightgown, and getting her ready for the shtup by the Duke. It was a #MeToo moment and very effective.

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