Nadine Sierra makes a beguiling Met debut in “Rigoletto”

Thu Dec 03, 2015 at 2:04 pm
Nadine Sierra as Gilda in the Metropolitan Opera production of Verdi's "Rigoletto." Photo: Jonathan Tichler

Nadine Sierra as Gilda in the Metropolitan Opera production of Verdi’s “Rigoletto.” Photo: Jonathan Tichler

In the past few seasons, the Metropolitan Opera has used notable debuts as opportunities to lend a little extra hype to a revival, often with considerable success.

By contrast, Nadine Sierra’s company debut in Wednesday’s Rigoletto seemed somehow to have flown under the radar, though through no fault of her own. A talented singer who has made several New York recital appearances and sung major roles with major international opera companies, the American soprano is hardly an unknown quantity. It’s a shame there weren’t more listeners on hand for her first Met appearance.

This is a season of big debuts for Sierra, who appeared already at the Bastille and will be making her bow at La Scala in the new year. For her Met debut on Wednesday night, the Fort Lauderdale native gave an excellent performance as Gilda, a vocal and dramatic achievement that showed she is an artist ready for a significant career with this company.

There was an endearing innocence about Nadine’s Gilda, in both her physicality and her voice itself, a lemony, glowing instrument that carried superbly into the house. She sings with remarkable ease, no matter where she is in her range or what effect she is trying to achieve: the beautiful flow of her middle voice was matched by accurate, graceful high notes, none of them ever grabbed or forced.

Her buoyant, gleeful account of the headline aria “Caro nome” earned an extended ovation, as she showed beguiling coloratura and threw in graceful ornamentation high above the staff. One high, misty pianissimo lingered for six seconds at least, never showing any signs of wavering or breaking.

The usually reliable Željko Lučić was, unfortunately, not himself in Wednesday’s performance. Dramatically, he has a tendency to rely on his physical presence and brooding mien as a basis for a more complete characterization, an approach that has served him well enough in villainous roles such as Macbetto, Jago, and Scarpia. That approach won him little sympathy as Verdi’s abused, antiheroic hunchback.

But even on a basic level, Lučić struggled mightily in a role with which he is exceedingly familiar. His voice lacked its accustomed richness, and his pitch wandered all evening—on sustained notes it tended southward, frequently by as much as a quarter tone. Let’s hope it can all be written off as a single bad night.

When Michael Mayer’s Vegas strip staging debuted in 2013 in a flood of neon, it seemed gimmicky, taking its re-imagining of the scenario dangerously close to alternate-period parody. Morsels of cheese remain, particularly in the stylized Met titles (He: “You send me to the moon, baby!” / She: “Easy, fella!”), but on the whole the production’s feel has darkened considerably, to the point that it now wrestles with the most difficult questions in the libretto.

Much of the credit for this change goes to the evolution of its star tenor’s performance. In the inaugural run of this production, Piotr Beczała Duke was essentially a slick playboy, and so he remains for the first act or so. But in Act II, reeling from ounces of whiskey and lines of cocaine (apparently too much license for one hissing operagoer), he makes a viscerally disturbing transformation into a predatory alpha-male, proudly brandishing a bottle of Maker’s before plodding downstairs to assault the abducted Gilda.

Beczała had a couple of brushes with iffy intonation, and once or twice his top notes spread a bit, but for the most part he was in fine voice for Wednesday’s performance. His opening “Questa o quella” was surprisingly lyrical, more suave than strutting, but he showed off his signature trumpeting top in a perfectly self-satisfied rendition of “La donna e mobile.”

Roberto Abbado’s conducting was admirable, if slightly on the stiff side. One wished to hear him wring more drama out of the score, but he led a well-managed performance and gave his singers everything they needed, providing full-bodied support.

The most powerful voice in the company on Wednesday belonged to Robert Pomakov, who gave an imposing performance in the thankless role of Monterone. Dmitry Ivaschenko impressed in his company debut as Sparafucile, flashing an earthy bass with plenty of growl.

Rigoletto runs through December 17 at the Metropolitan Opera.

2 Responses to “Nadine Sierra makes a beguiling Met debut in “Rigoletto””

  1. Posted Dec 12, 2015 at 4:03 pm by Simon Ord-Barends

    listening to the live broadcast and am shocked at the appalling recklessness of Piotr Bezcala’s performance. He is clearly hanging onto every high note as long as he can, often extending what is written and pushing the voice so hard it has lost its spark and instead has become wayward and frankly, ugly. Not to mention out of tune and falling off the notes. I do hope he can reign this in before he becomes an early victim and ruins his voice altogether. He is such a fine singer and had a beautiful instrument… Would be such a pity.

  2. Posted Dec 13, 2015 at 5:33 pm by CHSIII

    Beczala was indeed coarser-sounding than I have ever head him. Perhaps it was a purposeful character trait thing – to sound as ugly as the character is. He certainly fearlessly belted quite a few high notes, including an unwritten C# in the unwritten cadenza of “La donna…” But most disturbing in the broadcast was the wayward intonation of Lučić, who was singing quarter tones all afternoon – painful to hear, especially in an artist as sensitive as he is. He avoided certain traditinal high notes – the G in his first monologue, the F# at “All’onda…” in the last act, but he did pull an A-flat out of the hat for the end of “Si, vendetta…” and a solid, if somewhat thin, A-flat, A – natural, for the unwritten high optional ending “La maledizione!” However, all the grace and high notes in the world do not compensate for off-pitch singing. I hope he was unwell, and will recover, but the same problem was noted by the reviewer above of the Dec. 3rd performance. Ms. Sierra was enchanting – healthy and full singing at all dynamic levels throughout her range, and acting which carried through the radio. She has a future.

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