Giuseppe Verdi


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SATURDEE OPRY LINKS 41: "Rigoletto" Special!

Edita Gruberova as Gilda                                                                                                             Ingvar Wixell as Rigoletto
Saturdee Opry Links Overture!
"Rigoletto," by Verdi. 

To start things off with a bang, here is an astounding live performance by Jussi Bjorling in 1945 of "La Donne e Mobile" from "Rigoletto," by Verdi. Get this: at a recent "Rigoletto" by L.A. Opera, the conductor apologized---apologized----for the content of "La Donne e Mobile." He said it might upset the "metoo" folk. I kid not. Never mind that this aria is a lighthearted romp by a jolly lothario, the Duke of Mantua. This society is now officially meowing without a cat.
Setting: The inn of Sparafucile
Synopsis: The Duke, disguised as a soldier, sings that all women are fickle and that they will betray anyone who falls in love with them.

"Rigoletto" is based on a story by Victor Hugo, "Le Roi s'amuse," and was Verdi's great breakthrough as a dramatist. For the first time, his strengths at storytelling merged equally with his strengths as a composer. This is one of what is referred to as the great middle-period trilogy of Verdi operas, the others being "La Traviata" and "Il Trovatore." But enough scholarly flapdoodle. It's a damn good story, Shakespearian in scope---and also. . .damned weird. You got this hunchbacked court jester, see (Rigoletto), and he has a secret daughter whom he adores beyond comprehension, see---so much so that he protects her from "the world," meaning the court, see, and especially, the Duke. This would be Gilda, if you're keeping score at home. Of course, the busybody courtiers---forever miffed at Rigoletto's jests about them---discover the daughter, but assume she is Rigoletto's mistress! Huh? And just for "fun," they decide to kidnap her! You know, just to rile the old hunchback up, to get his back up (so to speak), and pay him back for all the nasty jesting. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Here, in the aria (or quasi-duet), "Figlia, Mio Padre," Gilda asks her father about her long-dead mother. This constitutes part of the autobiographical element that makes "Rigoletto" all the more involving, affecting. You see, Verdi, in an unimaginable tragedy, lost his wife and two young children to encephalitis. The soprano is Edita Gruberova, the baritone is Ingvar Wixell. With English subtitles. 

Warning! Titties! (That should get somebody to watch this goddamn thing.) Okay, kids, why is poor Rigoletto so cursed? Isn't it enough that he is a hunchback who tells jokes for a living? No! Not in the world of opera! Rigoletto must be formally cursed, and in this case by the elderly Count Monterone. What's the Count's beef? Well, it isn't the Count's beef that's at issue---it's the Duke's, so to speak. The randy Duke has seduced the Count's daughter! Monterone confronts the Duke, only to be arrested---and then to be mocked by Rigoletto, never mind that his job is. . .mockery! Well, the old Count doesn't care for this, and puts a great big curse on Rig. Here is that scene, complete with. . .titties! And bass-baritone Alexey Yakimov. 

Poor Gilda, such a naif, so pure---irresistable to the likes of the libidinous Duke. Of course, it's a bit ambiguous, the way Verdi tells it. Is the Duke really an uncaring womanizing scoundrel? Or does he actually fall in love (or at least infatuation) with every pretty woman he meets? Who is the victim here? Anyhow, Gilda has sneaked out behind Pop's back, so to speak, and it didn't take long for Dukey to swan in and make her swoon. Here the pair swear their love for one another in the lovely exchange marked by the Duke's aria, "E il sol dell'anima," or "Love is the sunshine of the soul." The aria begins at about 2:38, performed by Marcelo Alvarez and Christine Schaefer for the Royal Opera of London. This segues into a protracted goodbye sequence that Laurel and Hardy would have appreciated. (See link below) Gilda, fearing that the cap and bells of Rigoletto are at hand, sends the Duke on his way, with more "Addio's" than you can shake a stick at. Why you'd want to do that, I don't know. (Well, you remember how hard it was to say goodnight, back in your dating days, don't you?) Oh, by the way, the Duke gave Gilda a fake name, that naughty boy, claiming to be a starving student named Gualtier Malde. Deceitful? Or noble of him to not impress her with his title? 
Translation: /
Laurel and Hardy say goodbye: 

Smitten, besotted, enraptured, possessed, captivated, and otherwise nuts about the Duke, er, that is, Gautier Malde, Gilda here sings of her insanity, I mean love---in one of the great, beautiful arias in all opera, "Caro Nome." Here, again, is Edita Gruberova. English subtitles. 
Setting: The house of Rigoletto
Synopsis: After the Duke in the guise of a poor student named Gualtier Malde has seduced her, Gilda sings of her new-found love.
And, for unfair comparison, is Maria Callas: 

Our SOL "Rigoletto" special continues, despite popular demand!

As I was saying earlier, the courtiers kidnap Gilda as payback to Rigoletto for all his insults. (Again, never mind that his job is to tell jokes, and "keep people honest," as is the craft of all jesters.) Of course, the courtiers think Gilda is Rigoletto's secret mistress, not his daughter. Finding her gone, the Duke---that womanizing menace to the "metoo" movement (according to enfant terrible LA Opera conductor Matthew Aucoin!)---erupts in despair. yes, despair, in two remarkable arias-in-one, "Ella mi fu rapita!" ("She was stolen from me!") and "Parmi veder le lagrime" ("I seem to see tears"). This is one of the most duly famous sequences in all opera. You can feel the wringing hands, the sweat, the despondency. This is a man not in love? I think not, Mathew Aucoin. A tour-de-force, if ever there was one. Here is Luciano Pavarotti. 
Translation (wonderful words): 
And for fun, here is Mario Lanza. 

And here is a tremendous, Pavarotti-defeating performance of the same by the rather overlooked great, Alfredo Kraus. 

This might be, in its way, the most remarkable moment in "Rigoletto." I will turn to LA Opera sub conductor Matthew Aucoin's notes for proper explanation. Get out your pipes and start stroking your chins. This aria is "one of Verdi's most important musical breakthroughs," and it came "as a result of specific dramatic necessity." At this point, "Rigoletto is desperately searching for Gilda, abducted by the Duke's courtiers. In the aria's first section, Rigoletto rages at them." Predictable and appropriate, right? What's so revolutionary about that? Just this: "Before long, he sees that his rage will get him nowhere, and. . .tries a different tack, and so must the music. Mid-aria, Verdi slams on the brakes and shifts from intense to servile; Rigoletto pleads and cajoles the courtiers, trying to win sympathy." Finally the hunchbacked jester, broken by the loss of his daughter, collapses, weeping (5:04 in video.) Yet the music modulates not to some ultra-dramatic minor key, to express anguish, no---rather, it shifts into D-flat major, the voice accompanied by cello. (6:00 into the video.) This is the revolutionary musical device. This surprising change rendered Rigoletto even more sympathetic, as it replaced musical angst with beauty, and the beauty all the more poignantly framed the man's heartbreak. Got that? The proof is in the listening. Here is "Cortigiani, vil razza dannata," ("Courtiers, vile and cursed kind.") Once again, Ingvar Wixell. 

For comparison, here is the late, great Dmitri Hvorostovsky. 

Rigoletto recovers Gilda. How? The courtiers inform the Duke that they have kidnapped the jester's mistress. Upon seeing Rigoletto's daughter, the Duke is delighted, much to the befuddlement of the courtiers. He sets them straight, and Gilda is released. Soon reunited with his daughter, Rigoletto listens to her tale of having fallen in love---with the Duke. She sings gloriously of her love, "Tutte le feste al tempio" ("On all the blessed days"), and he responds by threatening revenge against the Duke, with "S! Vendetta, tremenda vendetta!" ("Yes! Revenge, terrible revenge!").
Here is that sequence, with English subtitles. Again, Gruberova, Wixell. 

Warning! Titties! (Again.)
Determined to prove to Gilda that the Duke is a cad, Rigoletto takes her to the residence of one of his many paramours, Maddalena. There, the jester and his daughter spy on the Duke and Maddy, and Mantua comes through nicely with flirtations and declarations of undying love. This gives way to one of the great quartets in all opera, "Bella Figlia dell'amore," in which the Duke swears love, Maddalena swears love, Gilda laments the Duke's behavior, and Rigoletto swears revenge. Here it is, with English subtitles, and Placido Domingo, cornell Macneil, Illeana Cotrubas, Isola Jones. Way back in 1977, before you were born. 

"Rigoletto" does not end well. Right, what a shocker. In short, the jester hires an assassin to kill the Duke. In one scene, Maddalena pleads with the assassin to spare the Duke's life---in the aria, "Ah, piu non ragiono," here sung by Ileana and her large Cotrubas. (Sorry, ladies, couldn't resist.)
Or here it is, with English subtitles and sanely harnessed breasts. (Victoria Vergara): 

To telescope the proceedings, Gilda disquises herself as the Duke and is murdered instead of him. The things we do for love, etc. At midnight, when Rigoletto arrives with money to pay the assassin, he receives a corpse wrapped in a sack, and rejoices that he has rid the world of Il Dukey. Weighting the sack with stones, he is about to cast it into the river when he hears the voice of the Duke, sleepily singing a reprise of his "La donna mobile" aria, in the distance. Huh? Bewildered, Rigoletto opens the sack and discovers his dying daughter. For a moment, she revives and declares she is glad to die for her beloved: "V'ho ingannato" ("Father, I deceived you"). She dies in her father's arms, Rigoletto crying out in horror: "La maledizione!" ("The curse!")
Paolo Gavanelli and Christine Schafer sing the final duet from a 2002 Covent Garden performance. 

Saturdee Opry Links Rigoletto Special Encore!
As George Harrison once said, "We've forgotten Billy Preston!" Which is to say, we've omitted the most popular aria in "Rigoletto," possibly the best known aria in all opera. But of course, I speak of "Questa o Quella," ("This one or That one"), the Duke's cavalier statement of "philosophy" of women! Here is Luciano. 

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