PERFORMER: Vladimir Chernov, Luciano Pavarotti, Cheryl Studer, Roberto Scandiuzzi, Denyce Graves; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra & Chorus/James Levine
CATALOGUE NO: 447 064-2
Currently represented in the catalogues by at least 15 versions, Verdi’s popular opera has been fortunate in that none of these is entirely without merit. Among recent versions, Muti’s live recording from La Scala, with Renato Bruson past his best in the title role, but Roberto Alagna exciting and Andrea Rost a beautiful Gilda, is the most commendable.
In the recording under review, James Levine’s brisk, glowing performance of the score is more flexible than Muti’s, and his Met orchestra is on top form. It is with its cast, however, that this version scores over recent competitors. As Rigoletto, Vladimir Chernov makes up for a not very Italianate timbre with his highly dramatic interpretation of the role, his intelligent phrasing and his suave legato. What fierce intensity he brings to ‘Cortigiani, vil razza dannata’, and how tender he becomes in his scenes with Gilda. Cheryl Studer is a highly sympathetic Gilda, affecting in ‘Caro nome’, and exciting in the final act. Roberto Scandiuzzi makes a sonorously convincing Sparafucile.
And what of Pavarotti as the Duke? His ebullient performance splendidly conveys the character’s carefree, libidinous nature, he is in splendid voice, his phrasing is immaculate, and what pure, clean Italian he sings. There have been more elegant Dukes of Mantua on record, but not more exciting ones, except perhaps for Giuseppe di Stefano in the 1955 version conducted masterfully by Tullio Serafin. That recording also had the incomparable Tito Gobbi as Rigoletto and the contentious Callas as Gilda. But it did not present Verdi’s score without cuts as Levine does. His is a most desirable Rigoletto, its recording vivid and well-balanced. Charles Osborne