CAST: Rigoletto: Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Gilda: Nadine Sierra, The Duke of Mantua: Francesco Demuro, Sparafucile: Andrea Mastroni, Maddalena: Oksana Volkova, Giovanna/Countess of Ceprano/Page: Eglė Šidlauskaitė, Count of Ceprano: Tadas Girininkas, Matteo Borsa: Tomas Pavilionis, Count Monterone: Kostas Smoriginas, Marullo: Andrius Apšega, a Court Usher: Liudas Mikalauskas
Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra
Men of the Kaunas State Choir
Constantine Orbelian, conductor
For an unfortunate coincidence, the present Rigoletto was released just two weeks before Dmitri Hvorostovsky’s untimely death (November 2017) and the sad news has inevitably cast a shadow over what can be considered the musical farewell of the great Russian baritone.
Hvorostovsky was diagnosed with brain tumour in 2015 and retired from the operatic stage at the end of the next year, shortly after the recording of this opera (June 2016). This recording is therefore one of his last efforts, where his voice still preserves intact its strength and its smoothness characterized by endless legato and soft phrasing. Sometimes one might desire a deeper rendition of the clownish side of Rigoletto, which is not focused except for few key words (his “conversation” with the Duke in the first act does not have biting sarcasm and not even a shade of irony), but Hvorostovsky’s representation of Rigoletto’s paternal affection in his duet with Gilda and of his desperation when his desire for revenge turned against him and deprives him of the daughter he loved so much, are among the most genuine and touching ever heard. His worries are perfectly exemplified by the recurring sentence «Quel vecchio maledivami!», which he sings almost in a whisper, as if he was already fallen a prey to superstitious fear that something dreadful will happen to him soon.
Moreover, Hvorostovsky is magisterial when he has to portray bad feelings, as it happened with other villains as Giorgio Germont in Traviata and the Conte Di Luna in Trovatore, just to think only of Verdi heroes (but it would not be inappropriate to remember in this context also Scarpia from Puccini’s Tosca). In Rigoletto, it is the buffoon’s malice to be stressed to the point that it borders on sadism in the passages of extreme excitement, as in the finale from the second act (Sì, vendetta, tremenda vendetta) and in the third act until he discovers the awful truth. Here you can really understand the joy of revenge and be sure that Hvorostovsky’s Rigoletto is never distracted by his bloody purposes from anything and anyone – it is clear why he cannot understand Gilda’s entreaties, perhaps he did not even heard her.
In the end, Hvorostovsky’s Rigoletto can be rightly praised as one of finest personal achievements.
The rest of the cast pales next to the great operatic star. Nadine Sierra is an ideal Gilda for her frailty and grace, despite the fact that her voice is not particularly beautiful, especially in her high register. Francesco Demuro as the Duke of Mantua shows a great temperament and youthful ardour, to which does not lack impudence; the negative side is that the tenor seems to have studied Pavarotti’s recordings by heart and he faithfully repeats what he had learned without adding his personal touch to the role. Andrea Mastroni has the right voice for Sparafucile, but as an assassin he has nothing frightening and sometimes his performance is definitely weak. His operatic sister Maddalena is better as Oksana Volkova sings pretty well a role which she has performed many times on stage. Finally, Kostas Smoriginas as Monterone is too much generic and he is not convincing neither as a offended father nor as awesome threat.
Constantine Orbelian is a constant presence in Hvorostovsky’s latest concerts and recordings and his main quality is that he accompanies the singers with rare willingness for a conductor, leaving them the space to exhibit their virtuosic skills. As it happened in another recording with Hvorostovsky, Simon Boccanegra, the negative side of Orbelian’s compliant conduction is that Rigoletto too lacks coherence and the musical ideas seem to be undefined. The scene at the Duke’s palace in the first act is quite lively, but in the pivotal passages (the chorus after Monterone’s curse, Sì, vendetta, the quartet and then the trio in the third act, not to speak of the finale) his conduction lacks incisiveness and the times are so slow that the result is that tension evaporates and, with it, the meaning of these scenes itself.