Teatro Real 2023-24 Review: Rigoletto (Cast B)

By Mauricio Villa

The Teatro Real de Madrid continued its run of “Rigoletto” with a second cast under the musical direction of Nicola Luisotti. Since our earlier review of the first cast already explores the production itself, we will jump right into an analysis of the vocal performances.

Étienne Dupuis was a lyrical Rigoletto, but far too lyrical. His warm and effortless timbre lacked the vocal entity needed to portray such a dramatic character. He looked and sounded like Gilda’s brother rather than his father. But, he is a good singer and actor. His high notes were secure and well supported, like the high G on “è follia,” the high E-flat on the “vendetta,” and A natural on the final “maledizione.”

He can also sing long expansive lines with beautiful legato, as the role demands in his three duets with Gilda. It is in the explosive moments of this role, like “la maledizione,” “Cortiggiani” or “vendetta” where he lacked vocal power and dramatism. He compensated the lightness of his voice by giving different emphasis and intention in every line of his first act aria “Pari siamo!”, coloring his voice and using dynamics. The way he sang with mockery for the line “fa ch’io rida bufone” showed how far this baritone can go in vocal characterization. The previous lines and opening section of his aria “Cortiggiani” were full of rage and anger, performed with strong accents and dynamics.

At the end of the performance, I personally felt that his voice seemed more adequate for Rossini’s Figaro than Verdi’s Rigoletto. But Dupuis was tremendously committed to the production and gave a strong portrayal of a non-hunchback jester (in this production) where he is dressed in women’s lingerie and cabaret clothes for the first scene of first act.

Xabier Anduaga portrayed the Duca. Somehow this role seemed quite far from his vocal qualities. He darkens the sound too much in the middle register (probably to sound more dramatic) but his high register is light and has a white quality. He sacrifices his diction in order to focus on voice production and projection, and therefore some parts like “un puro schiudo” sounded like some kind of close round vowel with blurred diction and no emphasis on the consonants.

On the other hand, he tends to open the sound in the high notes, as he did on the final B-flat of his entrance aria “Questa o quella” making a drastic change on the timbre. His high notes are easy and ringing and his projection is mesmerizing. But as much as his voice carries exaggeratedly over to the auditorium and his dark middle range sounds powerful, the lack of consistency of his lower register (which was inaudible) and the lightness of his high notes, although bright and ringing, showed the Lirico-leggero true nature of his voice. But the role of the Duca is very tricky, as it has several high notes and very difficult ascensions to the higher register, like the chromatic line “d’invidia agli uomini saró per te.” But the truth is that most high notes have been added by tradition and the vocal writing lies mostly  in the middle voice; “Questa quella” is written between central E-flat and A-flat and “Parmi veder le lagrime” between F and A-flat (which is the same tessitura of Alfredo in “La Traviata,” a very central role) and it is not Andagua’s most comfortable zone. In fact, he finished the aria with a forte F-sharp while the score  demands dolcissimo. He ignored most of the dynamics of the score and sang the whole aria forte with an unintelligible Italian.

He delivered mezza voce and beautiful diminuendo on “muta d’accento” in “La donna é mobile,” but always above the passaggio zone. He showcased his bright high notes like the D-flat at the end of  “Addio, addio…” which hid the voice of the soprano completely or the final B-natural on his famous third act aria, but one might have missed him going to high D natural, rather than the written central D, which could be expected from a tenor who is singing “La sonnambula” and “I Puritani” currently in his repertoire.

He sang an easy “la donna è mobile,” where the final G-sharp of the cadenza turned out to be flat, but he delivered a strong secure final B-natural.  He dealt effortlessly with the high tessitura of the quartet “Bella figlia dell’amore,” which rises constantly to A and B-flat, singing beautiful diminuendo but with exaggerated open high notes and dubious diction.

Julie Fuchs sang the role of Gilda. She is a true lyrical soprano, with a rotund central register and strong high notes, but her high register sounded too heavy for a role that demands high staccato B-flats in decrescendo in her first entrance and first act duet with Rigoletto. Her intent to sing pianissimo or diminuendo while in mezza voce, and some of her staccato high notes, were flat and uncontrolled. She has a marked vibrato which intensifies when singing above the stave, making the sound unstable and with little difference while singing trills. And therefore she was more comfortable during her second act “Tutte le feste al tempio” and subsequent duet with Rigoletto, which are dramatic and central, than in the first and third act where the tessitura gets very high and demands some coloratura.

She sounded out of breath during “Caro nome” with lots of sustained notes becoming flat and slightly out of pitch. The staccato section and the cadenza sounded heavy and hard. For example, she sang the written cadenza with a sustained D-flat, rather than the traditional E-flat. Her voice carried into the auditorium easily during the quartet “Bella figlia dell’amore.”

But, then again she struggled with the dolce and dolcissimo B-flats(as marked on the score) of her death scene. Instead, she managed a weak mezza voce. Gilda is usually sung by Lirico leggera sopranos, because of the coloratura, high notes and a sense of lightness, portraying a young naïve girl. One could not say whether Fuchs was not feeling at 100 percent well (and therefore the pitch problems and dry strident high notes), or if this role is simply inadequate for her voice.

Peixin Chen was a correct choice for the role of Sparafucile, singing effortlessly in this short but difficult role. He just does not possess the basso profundo voice which is usually cast for this role. His voice is dark, but his volume and projection are modest, specifically in the extremes of his tessitura, and therefore the low F which concludes his duet with Rigoletto sounded small and far. His voice had trouble being heard during the trio of “La tempesta.”

Ramona Zaharia portrayed a sexy and dominant Magdalena. Her instrument is dark, loud and with a strong middle-lower which made her ideal for this short but important role.

The orchestra and male section of the Teatro Real were splendid under the loud and extremely fast tempi of the conductor Nicola Luisotti.

A dubious cast of great singers which seemed more adequate for other repertoire, with the presence of the rising Spanish opera star, tenor Xavier Anduaga, in the polemic and violent abstract new production by director Miguel del Arco.


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