“Jubilant applause at Dresden’s Semperoper for the brilliant cast and for Nikolaus Lehnhoff’s outstanding production of Rigoletto,” proclaimed the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung when Željko Lucic, Diana Damrau and Juan Diego Flórez came together for a new production of Rigoletto, conducted by Fabio Luisi.
As described by France’s Opéra magazine, Lehnhoff presented Rigoletto “as a surreal dream, with the action unfolding in strange locations … The Duke’s palace, resembling a black marble gully surmounted by a heavy, menacing ceiling, is populated by disturbing, wandering creatures; Gilda’s bedroom, its walls perforated with stars, transforms into a sinister cage when huge grilles descend from the flies, while the final act plays out in a curious open construction, with doors opening onto a void.”
Diana Damrau – whose Virgin Classics recitals have showcased her prowess as a singing actress – took the role of Gilda, Rigoletto’s daughter. As Das Opernglas recounted, she “caused a sensation with her immaculate coloratura, radiant high register and skilful breath control, enough on their own to place her in the forefront of interpreters of the role. But it was her capacity for filling each note with sincerity of spirit which made her portrayal so exceptional and drew ovations from the first-night audience. This was no silly little girl, but the epitome of a human being who, though beyond corruption, finally falls victim to the hatred and egocentricity of other people. As an actress, Diana Damrau brought her to life with natural grace and a sympathetic persona.”
Die Welt resorted to a more graphic evocation of the soprano’s art: “If the human ear had a G-Spot, Diana Damrau’s voice would be better than any vibrator. Has the world ever before heard Gilda’s aria as such an intensely sensual musical expression of an innocent girl’s sighs of longing? … Currently there is no-one who sings this role better than this exceptional German soprano … Love and death, desire and eternity are closely linked in this exemplary Verdi performance.”
Gilda’s faithless seducer, the Duke of Mantua, was sung for the first time by Juan Diego Flórez, who, as described in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, embodied “a thoughtless young man, elegant of presence and voice, who has been spoilt by money and power … His silvery, focused tone retains its beauty and carrying power even at a piano dynamic, and he has a remarkable ability to shape rapid quaver passages and to bring decorative figures into relief. His upper register was brilliant, for instance in the climactic phrase leading to a top B flat in the duet with Gilda (‘Č il sol dell’anima’), the interpolated D flat at the end of the ‘Addio’ duet, or the unwritten high D at the end of the cabaletta ‘Possente amor’.
The Duke’s court jester – and would-be nemesis – was portrayed by Željko Lucic who, as the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung continued, “proved with grand aplomb that there is no greater role than Rigoletto for a lyric-dramatic baritone.” Die Welt judged that: “The vocal expression that Željko Lucic brings to the fatally consuming love of this father, both physically and emotionally crippled, is maybe even greater in its beauty, inscrutability and despair than his dramatic portrayal … With this debut in the role he confirms his place in the front rank of baritones … surpassing his contemporaries.”
As for Luisi, who excels in both the German and Italian repertoire, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung praised his “compelling musical direction”, while Das Opernglas found that “the integrity of [his] musical conception was wholly persuasive, shaped throughout with rhythmic and dynamic clarity … inspiring the Sächsische Staatskapelle to the highest level of orchestral achievement”.
Submitted on 11/19/10 by JAMES R. OESTREICH, The New York Times