Before the next spate of commentary rolls in, just a few more thoughts after 48 hours of digestion:
1. I'll second Jonathan and JSU's comments about the decided lack of ping in Rolando V's upper reaches. It is a clear, extremely enjoyable sound, but it don't make with the shivers; well thrown, but there's no spit on that ball.
2. While I maintain that Carlo Guelfi turned in a full blooded Rigoletto character-wise, listening to Leo Nucci do the thing Sunday proved how much Guelfi leaves to be desired. With the right voice really SINGING Rigoletto to the hilt, there are times when you even forget the Gilda/Duke pyrotechnics and just wallow in what is surely one of the most effective ads ever for the baritone voice.
3. So, I know it's just Rigoletto and all, but what an ever fascinating drama that thing is: a world in which love has been stripped of its power to such a degree that love itself becomes virtually meaningless. It is still ultimately a play about punishment and fate, but Verdi and Piave come to the judgment only after showing what we so often think of as love to be little more than a selfish conceit. We are prone to think, as Rigoletto, the Duke, and Gilda do, that love for another redeems, that the act of loving is enough to change us, and change the nature of things. But that seduction unravels in time, to where it utterly falls apart in Maddalena's dreadful suggestion: her 'compassion' for the Duke is synonymous with utter disregard for another life. That last mile post before the abyss acknowledged, Rigoletto must confront the fact that his love for his daughter, whom he can never understand, has meant nothing, and the only thing real is the cruelty he has done in the world.
4. On a related note, isn't it funny that La Donna e Mobile, maybe the cruelest number in the show, has become its jaunty calling card? I mean, after he's destroyed Gilda and unwittingly set the whole terrible endgame in motion, Verdi has him come on and sing "Bitches are crazy." And that's what everyone has gone home humming for a century and a half. Now that's a man who knows how to manipulate an audience.