James Conlon’s “Rigoletto” is unforgettable

James Conlon
Corriere della Sera

By Paolo Isotta

He is nearly 60 years old and looks like a young boy: slight, elegant. He is Maestro James Conlon, conducting La Scala’s latest Rigoletto, which opened on January 15. Of course, when the protagonist is Leo Nucci, making his 440th appearance in the title role, one has ears only for him. But Conlon deserves just as much attention. Just completing Wagner’s entire Ring, he moves with ease to the most opposite concept possible of music theatre. He speaks Italian perfectly, as is clear from his relentless pursuit of the “parola scenica,” (the vivid, expressive word), which today’s singers seem to avoid as if it were none of their business. It goes without saying that Leo Nucci is a master of the “parola scenica,” and his voice, which can be tender and pliable or powerful, carries even when the orchestral texture is at its most dense. But a Rigoletto like this, thanks to the musical direction of James Conlon, is not to be forgotten. He is an authoritative maestro, and manages to repair, for the time being, the Scala orchestra, from the strings to the brass. He possesses a perfect conception of the dramaturgical connection between tension and release; he knows and applies interpretive “traditions” like the conductors of another generation. Moreover, his mastery of the score is ironclad, as is immediately evident from the elegance with which he conducts the archaic dances in the first scene and the Duke’s obscene approach to the Countess Ceprano. In short, Conlon is one of the maestros who should have a regular place in every season and in the most diverse repertory.  His success when “gathering the scattered branches” in Rigoletto is proof thereof.

If the title role features Leo Nucci, I think that success is ensured; [he is] so nice and kind, a savory conversationalist around the table as well as a scholar of acoustics on a professional level, and from him emanates a reverential awe, which encourages the whole cast to give their very best. The example of his thoroughness is that of one who never gives up studying and not that of turning up just for the dress rehearsal.

With Elena Mosuc, who interprets Gilda, we have a queen of coloratura (her Caro nome is a model), but a singer who knows nothing about an articulate production of sound, so that all her words are incomprehensible. As Monterone, Ernesto Panariello is mighty, and Marco Spotti as Sparafucile appears fearsome and mysterious. The Duke is Stefano Secco, who “pushes” a bit too much, and his utterly beloved Maddalena is Mariana Pentcheva.