ne groans inwardly at the thought of another Rigoletto recording-all those traditional defacements, with rarely a fresh glimmer of light shed on the score. Angel's latest album has its share of alterations, but it compensates with a strong dramatic sense, stylish vocalism and surprisingly good conducting, adding up to a totality that makes it one of the most attractive Rigoletto recordings from an all-round viewpoint.
It is distressing to hear Sherrill Milnes tack unwritten high notes onto climactic moments, such as the very end of the opera, or yell "Gilda!" where the score says, "He tries to cry out but cannot." Coarsenings of such a kind have given this music drama the reputation of being a singers' carnival, another Trovatore. Yet it is reassuring that an artist who can accept these stereotypes can also grasp and project his lines with such expressive force: Verdi wrote bel canto plus, a melodic style with dramatic purpose in every bar, and Milnes gives us a conception of the character, not just a recital of vocal high points.
Alfredo Kraus has the aristocratic style once associated with Tito Schipa, plus considerably more voice, in his portrayal of the Duke of Mantua. Though he does not always bother with fine points of dynamics as written, he does shade his tones and uses diminuendo to telling effect. One feels the irresistible charm of the Duke, his impulsive vitality as well as his suave, ingratiating manner, and this enlivens the ongoing drama.
At the present stage of Beverly Sills' career, after extended excursions into perilous territory, one expects caution in a role like Gilda, and happily it suits the jester's sheltered daughter to a T. Though her vocal means are circumscribed, they are also impelled by years of knowledge and insight, and there is little Miss Sills doesn't seem to know about bending and shaping this kind of exposed, poignant music. She also knows better than to spoil the ruminative ending of the "Caro nome" scene with a high E, and her trills are the real article.
The doubling of Monterone and Sparafucile by the same singer is an appropriate Lulu-like touch, consolidating Rigoletto’s inspirational demons, especially when a bass of the rich-voiced authority of Samuel Ramey is available. The British supporting cast shows a sharp sense of individuation in etching indelible vignettes, but the unifying ensemble feeling is a credit chiefly to Julius Rudel, who steers the score with a clear, uncomplicated sense of destination, giving each number its full due without distorting the whole.
There are no cuts-even the tenor’s cabaletta is given complete. And the duet cadenza of “E il sol dell’anima” is all there, though some other cadenzas are changed. A few questions remain. “La donna e mobile” starts with a pianissimo marking in the orchestral score, but sources are at variance, and Rudel opts for a louder reading. Instead of introducing the detestable traditional accelerando in “Si, vendetta,” he takes the whole piece at a faster clip, like a Rossini finale. But if these are debatable points, they are not major weaknesses in the best of this conductor’s opera recordings to date.