One problem with opening night is the speechmaking. Okay, the heavy-hitting donors need to be thanked in front of their social peers, and I'm as grateful to anyone for the Gunns and Mrs. Littlefield. But I wish David Gockley could do the thanking. He's got good stage presence and knows what to do with a microphone in his hand. John Gunn was extremely ill at ease and meandering; George Hume did better. Maybe they'd rather not be on stage.
I just don't know what the story is with SFO and tenors in this opera. Nearly every lyric tenor knows the role of the Duke of Mantua, and a fair number of tenors up into the spinto range - but in three of the last four presentations of Rigoletto, the tenors have been forgettable. I saw Tito Beltran in 1997; Giuseppe Gipali in 2006; Francesco Demuro this year.
I don't doubt the company's commitment to hiring the best possible singers, and I'm not expecting them to put Pavarotti on stage for every bring-up, but heavens. Frank Lopardo, in 2001, was excellent (and, sadly, cast with a weak Gilda and poor Rigoletto); he isn't the most glamorous tenor of his generation, but he is a solid singer with great style and no vocal issues. I've also liked him greatly in two performances of the Verdi Requiem. He's a pleasure to listen to, and I've never missed him more than last night. David Lomeli, who withdrew from the Vratogna/Shagimuratova cast, was a fabulous Rinuccio in 2009's Trittico, and surely he can sing rings around Demuro as the Duke, as could Michael Fabiano, who sensationally took over the tenor lead in last season's Lucrezia Borgia. I'll be interested in what folks think of Arturo Chacon-Cruz in the other cast.
Meanwhile, the generally dispiriting performance last night: I wonder how much of it stemmed from trying to rehearse two casts in a warhorse production in its fourth and possibly last staging. I certainly hope the subsequent performances get better. I also find myself fearing that I'll never again hear a Rigoletto as good as Gavanelli/Swenson in 1997, however forgettable Tito Beltran was.