Last night, the Metropolitan Opera revived Rigoletto, a masterpiece of Verdi, in the 2013 production by Michael Mayer. This is the one that switches the story from sixteenth-century Mantua to 1960 Las Vegas. I wrote about the production when it was new, here. I will not recapitulate that criticism. But I will quote one thought:

The title character is not a hunchback, but a man who walks around normally. That’s okay. But what is the handicap, or deformity, that shapes his personality? The misfortune of which he constantly speaks? We don’t see it.

That is a problem, I maintain. At any rate . . .

In the pit last night was Nicola Luisotti, the Italian who is music director of the San Francisco Opera. The orchestra had a lousy beginning—a clumsy, botched beginning. But no such botching was heard for the rest of the evening. If there were errors, they were far less blatant.

Luisotti had an interesting approach to “Questa o quella,” the Duke’s opening aria (and the opera’s). It was fast and galloping. The orchestra sounded like the “March of the Swiss Soldiers” in the William Tell overture. As I say, this was interesting, and I sort of enjoyed hearing it. But the aria ought to have more charm and grace, in my view.

Throughout the evening, Luisotti was brisk—crisp and efficient. The initial conversation between the Duke and the assassin moved too quickly, for my taste. But I could see the conductor’s point. Also, one realizes that people have different “internal clocks.”

Luisotti had the orchestra whip up a storm. It was a Donizetti-like, Bellini-like, Rossini-like storm.

You should have heard “Cortigiani, vil razza dannata.” Luisotti had the orchestra whip up a storm. It was a Donizetti-like, Bellini-like, Rossini-like storm. Indeed, I believe that Maestro Luisotti thinks of Rigoletto as more of a bel canto opera than most people do. You have heard darker, heavier Rigolettos than last night’s. A conductor can wring a lot more pathos out of the piece than Luisotti did. But at least the opera was not overwrought.

Say this for Luisotti, or at least I will: he made me think anew—think a little differently—about Rigoletto.

Before I get to singers, a word about an orchestra member: the principal clarinet, Inn-hyuck Cho. He did a little singing—a few choice licks—in Act III. These were stylish, making a person smile.

Nadine Sierra and Roberto Frontali. Photo: Marty Sohl.

Appearing in the title role was a veteran Rigoletto, Roberto Frontali (whom I reviewed in the role ten years ago, here). A canny veteran he is. He has the Italian language—by birth—and he knows how to use it. Last night, he had less sound, less heft, than you might appreciate in a Rigoletto. But he did the most with the resources at his disposal, which were considerable. He was flat on some high notes, but this was of little import. Roberto Frontali is a worthy Rigoletto.

The Duke was Vittorio Grigolo, who was marvelous, as usual. In “Questa o quella,” he was sloppy—but I chalked that up to undue speed. Otherwise, he turned on his golden tone and his sheer volume. How does he do it? The singing is so lovely and so loud—and this volume is unforced.

To my ears, Grigolo was half a bel canto tenor and half a lyric-heroic—as probably befits the Duke.

I believe that, when we listen to Grigolo, we are listening to a tenor who will become a legend—whether we know it now or not.

In Act II, this character sings “Ella mi fu rapita!” Grigolo’s combination of beauty, authority, and emotion was stunning. The character next sings his aria “Parmi veder le lagrime.” In this, Grigolo was a little sobby, but he was unquestionably Italianate. Later, he sang “La donna è mobile” almost casually—like a pop song, easy-peasy.

I believe that, when we listen to Grigolo, we are listening to a tenor who will become a legend—whether we know it now or not.

Vittorio Grigolo. Photo: Marty Sohl.

Nadine Sierra, too, had an outstanding night. She is the American soprano who was Gilda. Her singing was poised and accurate. (She did a good deal of it flat on her back.) She has developed an impressive technique. Her high notes were generally on the money. And when she was soft and high, she was especially impressive.

While Sierra was negotiating some tricky high passages in “Caro nome”—unaccompanied—a woman near me uttered an oath, in awe. It was a word that begins with F and rhymes with “luck.” It had the sense of “Holy-moly, sakes alive.”

Nadine Sierra. Photo: Marty Sohl.

So, I have spoken of Sierra’s singing. Equally impressive was her grasp on her character. She brought out Gilda’s dignity, goodness, and self-sacrificial love (mad though it may be).

There are other characters in this opera, of course, but I will wrap up. Let me say that last night’s performance had its share of good-looking women, as the story calls for—but the most gorgeous thing on the stage was a car: a 1960 Cadillac Coupe de Ville.

Finally, I wish to share a memory. Once, André Previn was asked about his relationship with opera—he is not crazy about the genre (though he has written two operas). He pointed to the story of Rigoletto. “I mean, a girl in a bag? A girl in a bag, dressed as a man? Really? What’s that about?” (I am paraphrasing.) “A girl in a bag, dressed as a man, who is dead, but not quite, and has a conversation with her father, the hunchback? Really? Come on.”

I bow before Rigoletto—a peak achievement in art—but, yeah, I know what you mean, ’dré.