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Andrew Quint
Fanfare, May 2009

This Rigoletto, filmed live at the Zurich Opera House in 2006, has three strong leads to recommend it. In the title role, Leo Nucci fully represents all of Rigoletto’s character traits and range of emotions—the hunchback’s lancing wit, fearfulness, and self-loathing when we first meet him and later, his obsessive need for revenge. Both Rigoletto’s sense of righteous triumph when he believes he’s got the Duke dead in the bag and his inconsolable grief at the drama’s end are palpable. With Piotr Beczala, Zurich engaged one of the hottest lyric tenors of the moment. Beczala’s voice has been compared, with good reason, to Fritz Wunderlich’s, and his Duke is virile, proud, and self-assured. Beczala’s open and effortless vocalizing is as seductive as his womanizing; who could resist his act III “Un di, se ben rammentomi, o belle, t’incontrai?” (Director Gilbert Deflo presents the opera in the more usual three-act configuration.) The Romanian-born Swiss soprano Elena Mosuc possesses the ideal spinto instrument for Gilda, sweet, focused, and flexible. “Gualtier Maldè, nome di lui sì amato” will have you holding your breath; it’s literally a showstopper. The singer most definitely has no fear of high notes.

László Polgár is a scary and imposingly professional assassin and, as his accomplice sister, Katharina Peetz contributes considerably to the dramatic precision of the final act. On the podium, veteran Nello Santi is a sure hand and the Zurich Opera House Orchestra is first-rate. Listen to the lovely oboe solo joining Gilda’s “Tutte le festa al tempio mentre pregava Iddio” toward the end of act II, or the flutes and high strings that accompany her dying words.

The multi-channel audio—7.1, if you’re actually set up with the two additional surround channels; I’m not—separates voices from the orchestra very nicely, though we’re occasionally aware of direct instrumental sound from behind when we shouldn’t be. Offstage effects, such as the band that begins the opera or the Duke’s departing reprise of “La donne è mobile” in act III, are quite convincing. The production is traditionally representational, evoking the splendor of the ducal palace as well as the dangerous ambience of the other-side-of-the-tracks where the last act’s climatic events unfold. Arthaus provides subtitles in English, Italian, German, French, and Spanish. Easily recommendable.

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