On Saturday night the Teatro San Carlo crowned its summer season with Mario Pontiggia’s production of one of Verdi’s best loved operas, Rigoletto. It was a solid staging, which gave a trusty and convincing version of the masterpiece. Pontiggia was smart at showing the emotional conflict of characters in both crowd scenes and more intimate interactions, indulging the opera’s dramatic allure, supported by the scenery. From the luxury of the ducal palace with its gorgeous frescoes and huge equestrian statues, to Rigoletto’s out-of-the-way house, to Sparafucile’s place, an array of captivating traditional sets, designed by Francesco Zito, recreated the primal opera’s atmosphere. The wonderful Renaissance costumes, designed by Giusi Giustino with her usual and utmost attention to every detail, added both magnificence and realism to Pontiggia’s production.

© Francesco Squeglia

A cast of well-matched singers put the seal onto the evening, as they did a superb job depicting the complexities of the characters. From the very first entrance with his mocking address, baritone George Petean took the lead as the hunchbacked jester, Rigoletto. With fine diction, musical sensibility and impressive stage presence, Petean excellently portrayed a character both cynical as the buffoon and vulnerable as the father in loving concern for his daughter.

Soprano Patrizia Ciofi started off somewhat timidly as Gilda. Nevertheless, as the opera went on, she added brilliance and tone to her performance with graceful mezza voce trills and nice coloratura passages. Her duets with Rigoletto are the melodramatic centre of the opera and Petean and Ciofi interacted with both delicacy and poignancy, showing intense involvement.

George Petean (Rigoletto) and Patrizia Ciofi (Gilda)
© Francesco Squeglia

Tenor Saimir Pirgu was really impressive as the Duke of Mantua, as he depicted the charming, debauched character with a strong, clear, assertive voice. He was also good at portraying the Duke’s (ephemeral) lovesickness in Act 2’s “Parmi veder le lagrime” with dramatic and tender accents and hearty high notes. Pirgu nimbly increased his voice and sentiment in “Possente amor” when he understood that the girl he loved was in his palace. His rendition of  “La donna é mobile” was pleasingly cheerful.

Saimir Pirgu (The Duke of Mantua) and Nino Surguladze (Maddalena)
© Francesco Squeglia

George Andguladze, as the cutthroat Sparafucile, transmitted a sinister hair-raising aura in his low register, along with an admirable, unbending vocal solidity, and Nino Surguladze, as Maddalena, showed attractive register and colour in her voice. Gianfranco Montresor cast his curse with skilful energy as Monterone. Trained by Marco Faelli, who was delivering his last work in Naples, the San Carlo chorus added outstanding energy to the crowd scenes in the first two acts.

In the pit, conductor Pier Giorgio Morandi balanced the sound of the orchestra with the voices onstage quite well. Also, he unveiled some delicate, caring touches in the duets between Rigoletto and his daughter.