A Good Enough Rigoletto When You Think About It
Bill Ratner | Los Angeles, CA USA | 12/27/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This recording, which offers only the highlights from Verdi's dark opera Rigoletto, is a fine studio recording with good singers and good orchestration when you really think about it. It's true that the lead singers are past their primes and their vocals, though well-trained and dramatically convincing, do not pack a punch as good as they used to in their salad days of the 60's. Only Sherril Milnes and Samuel Ramey, both baritones, deliver a noteworthy performance. Samuel Ramey is in fine singing condition and he had only been singing professionally very recently. In fact, if you are a fan of Ramey, this would count as one of his oldest recordings and his voice is superb here. This is a recording dating from 1978. By then, Beverly Sills and Alfredo Kraus were much older (Sills was approaching her fifties and Alfredo Kraus had also past his glory days as tenor) but nonetheless this is a well delivered opera recording as a whole. It can get you interested the entire opera and perhaps when you do buy the whole opera you can get superior singers and a much loved recording. It's a sort of "introduction" to opera. The same can apply to the recordings of "Barber Of Seville" and "La Traviata", also under the baton of maestro Julius Rudel and starring Beverly Sills- which were also made in the late 70's.The strength of Verdi's Rigoletto lies squarely on its powerful drama. The tragic plot revolves around a court jester (Rigoletto- Milnes) who is employed in the service of an extremely decadent and corrupt Duke (Kraus). The Duke's first aria shows him to be a womanizer (Questo e Quella) along the lines of Don Giovanni. When Rigoletto insults a deformed guest at the Duke's party Monterrone, Rigoletto is cursed. Later, the curse comes into effect when the Duke seduces Rigoletto's daughter Gilda (Sills) only to rape her and toss her aside for his next conquest. When Rigoletto hears of the Duke's awful crime from Gilda herself, he vows revenge. He hires a hit man Sparafucile (Samuel Ramey) who accidentally has Gilda killed instead. The Duke gets away with his awful behavior scot-free and in Rigoletto's last lines he remembers the curse (La Maldizione!). This dark plot was Verdi's newest attempt to provide characters that were neither dark or light, good or bad but falling in a more flawed and human middle ground. Rigoletto inadvertently has killed his own daughter and the evil Duke goes unpunished. It is a character study on the character of Rigoletto- mainly his desire for revenge. This recording is worth buying. It's an affordable, even budget price and has its moments. For a soon to be 50 Beverly Sills she does manage to pull off an impressive Gilda - frail, innocent and daydreaming of romance. Nowhere is this more vividly expressed than in her aria "Gualter Made". Sills' soaring, light legato is beautiful to hear. Though she is a mature sounding soprano by the time of this recording, she still does a great job, coming into the very same ground that sopranos like June Anderson and even the ultimate diva Maria Callas walked- both Anderson and Callas sang Gilda, even if the role is calling for a vulnerable, teenage-sounding kind of soprano, All in all a great recording. And Julius Rudel conducts with superb aplomb...especially noteworthy is the exchange of recitatives between Milnes and Ramey early in the opera which is underscored by strings. And the finale is to die for."
Dillon Haynes | 02/17/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This Rigoletto is absolutely wonderful. Rudel conducted firmly but not magnificently, but the cast is magnificent. Milnes (also the title role in the Rigoletto with Sutherland and Pavarotti) is the best ever, no doubt. Always touching and powerful, his acting is amazing (if only there was a Milnes/Callas version!) and his screams of "Gilda! Gilda!" are unrivalled. Alfredo Kraus isn't an incredible actor but his creamy, youthful tone is perfect with the added bonus of a high D in "Possente amor." (Only Pavarotti, by the way, attempted this on any of the recordings I've heard - Domingo, di Stefano, and del Monaco are among those that cut the aria or went for the lower note.) Sills is an extremely convincing Gilda even if, at times, like Callas and Sutherland, she sounds too mature. If you want an incredible Rigoletto and duke, go for this. Gilda . . . well, Sills is great but I prefer Cotrubas or Gueden."