It belongs in the past, the idea of gathering excellent singers for opening night and then choosing unknown young performers for alternative casts. Teatro Real, with the participation of Quinn Kelsey, John Osborn and Gianluca Buratto, proved how strong cast C was for its production of “Rigoletto.”
Quinn Kelsey as Rigoletto
Baritone Quinn Kelsey portrayed the titular role. He has an amazing, strong and warm instrument, with a mesmerizing projection. He has one of those voices that sounds close to your ear when he is singing on stage. But despite such a wonderful voice, his implication and personification of Rigoletto proved why he is one of the best baritones of this generation. With his first line “In testa che avete…” his voice was dark, powerful and perfect for this role. He has an immense ability to use dynamics and vocally portray his character. His coloring of the last line “il marito fremendo ne va” was full of cynicism. He sang a sorrowful “Qual vecchio maledivami” in a whispering mezza voce. His interpretation of “Parisiamo!…” was a lesson of good singing and vocal portrayal for his continuous contrast between forte and piano and the incredible pallet of colors of his voice. His high notes are thunderous and ringing, as he sounded the final high G of his first aria. He emitted an incredible crescendo from a whispered pianissimo to forte on “Ah! De no parlare al misero…” during his first duet with Gilda, which he sang with an impeccable phrase and long legato lines.
He transmitted deep worry and tension for his “La ra, la ra…” before his big outburst on “Mia figlia…”. He sang the opening of his second act aria “Cortiggiani!” with rage and determination, emphasizing each word and delivering two strong high Gs. He transitioned into disappointment, sorrow and finally begging, for the slow section of the aria which he sang with exquisite long legato lines. He was mad with rage for the “Vendetta” which he coronated with a strong high A flat. He finished his performance with a moving final scene, where he held the agonizing Gilda in his arms, before delivering a final high A natural for his last “maledizione” as Gilda dies.
Quinn Kelsey is definitively one of the best Rigoletto interpreters today.
Ruth Iniesta as Gilda
Gilda was sung by the Lirico leggera Spanish soprano Ruth Iniesta. She has a leggero instrument with a marked vibrato and explosive high notes, as proven by her voluminous high E flat at the end of the “vendetta” in Act two. Her modest volume increases as she rises up in her tessitura. Her coloratura is clean and secure, and therefore all the staccato high B flats of her first act duet with Rigoletto and the cadenzas and roulades of her aria “Caro nome” were impeccable. But her marked vibrato made her pitch dubious on several notes and it made no difference while singing the multiple trills of her first act aria. At the same time, she was not able to sing pianissimi as her voice only diminished to mezza voce, as she proved during her first act aria, and the B flats of her dying scene.
The highlight of her performance was “Caro nome,” where she seemed perfectly comfortable, in contrast to her “Tutte le feste al tempio” where she gave the impression of making her voice artificially larger. It’s true that this aria is dramatic and central, but the orchestration is soft, so a big loud voice is not needed.
Her projection was good enough to keep her voice audible in the Quartet and the “tempesta” at the final third act. Her characterization of the role was weak, for the tendency of the soprano to act with big gestures all the time, breaking all the naturalism that was present in this staging.
John Osborn as the Duke of Mantua
The Bel canto stylish John Osborn portrayed the Duke of Mantua. His bright voice, with an even metallic timbre throughout all his register, shines in a role that demands brave ascensions to the high register but with a strong middle register. The Duke is a tricky role. It can be sung by Lirico leggero voices (the three tenors cast by Teatro Real for this role belonged to that voice category) for the insistency of singing in the pasaggio and the ascensions to the high register, but it also demands a strong centre, which is where most of the role is written. It doesn’t demand a big voice, as the orchestration when the Duke is singing is very light.
Osborn’s voice seemed perfect for this role. He sang an impeccably fast (Luisotti’s tempi were a bit too extreme) first aria “Questa o quella” with bright shining A flats and B flats, keeping the same quality of his timbre. Either he doesn’t have a passaggio zone, or his technique is so good that you can’t hear any change of his timbre when he passes from the middle to high register (where the passaggio appears). It seemed as if every note was correctly placed. He has a notable big projection, and his voice could be heard singing a high D flat at the end of the first scene over the forte orchestra and chorus.
His interpretation of his duet with Gilda, “E il sol dell’anima!,” was a lesson of expansive long soaring lines and the use of dynamics. He is able to make a diminuendo on a high B flat in the difficult line “d’invidia agli uomini…” (where most tenors just struggle to get to the high note). If there were only a word that defines Osborn’s singing sweetness. He imprints with a sense of sweetness, his singing in constant contrast between forte and pianissimo, and his long lines in sustained mezza voce.
He made his difficult second act aria “Parmi veder le lagrime” sound easy, by his amazing ability to sing in the passaggio with no change on the sound at all and a strong centre which is needed to provide this role with vocal weight. He become ardent and passionate during his subsequent cabaletta “possente amor,” where he included subtle variations and sang comfortably with Luisotti’s fast tempi.
“La donna e mobile” sounded amusing, and he produced an astonishing diminuendo on a G sharp and F sharp on the line “muta d’acento.” He concluded this famous aria with a clean fast cadenza and a top ringing high B natural.
Gianluca Buratto as Sparafucile
Gianluca Buratto reprised the role of Sparafucile, which he had just sung in London at the Royal Opera House. He has a basso profondo voice (as required for this role) which is very dark and with a voluminous sound. He managed to sing mezza voce and control his big sound on his line “Sparafucile mi nomino” in his short duet with Rigoletto in Act one, which he concludes with a never ending low F, holding until the very last bar of music as he went off stage. He transmitted a sense of danger and mystery from the moment he stepped on the stage. His voice was perfectly audible during the “storm scene” where he rose up to a strong high F sharp (an extreme note for his kind of voice). He concluded his performance with an amazing sonorous low F sharp on “Buona notte.”
Overall this was an incredible cast of singers lead by Quinn Kelsey, who is one of the best Rigolettos today, in the polemic new production of Miguel del Arco, under the fast and loud baton of Nicola Luisotti.