The Met's new production of Verdi's Rigoletto is the talk of the town this month. The director Michael Mayer has transplanted "this licentious, decadent world of a court where the Duke is in charge of everything" from 16th century Mantua to the 1960's Vegas of the infamous "Rat Pack" - singers, actors, pranksters and 24-hour party people. The court is replaced by a casino, and the assassins "safe house" is replaced with a strip club.
The Met's website is a great source for information on the production, including video clips, info on the cast and a synopsis of the opera.
Several of our opera patrons have asked for my take on this production's concept. It promises to be provocative. The neon-bright set is vibrant, and the casino atmosphere is anything but dull. The singing is exceptional. The blue-eyed Polish tenor Piotr Bezcala is in top form as the Duke, appearing for his opening aria with a white dinner jacket holding a mic, and like Sinatra, surrounded by beautiful women. The dynamic German soprano Diana Damrau is Gilda, the daughter of the title character Rigoletto, the Duke's jester. The Serbian baritone Zeljko Lucic plays Verdi's Shakespearean title character. Rigoletto is torn by love for his daughter, fear over the curse he's brought upon himself (from his rapier-like jests and insults as the Duke's prankster), and hell-bent to avenge the loss of his donor's honor by the lecherous Duke.
Rigoletto was a lightning rod for the censors in Verdi's day. From the on-stage debauchery to the title-character's deformity (he is a "hunchback") Verdi wrestled and wrangled to see his musical drama come to life with his concepts intact. In that sense, the controversial new production is in keeping with the spirit in which the opera was created over 150 years ago. Regardless of one's opinion of any new production of Rigoletto, the music is the Duke of this opera.
From the terse and ominous prelude to the opening party scene and the curse which sets the drama spinning; from the chilling duet between the title character and the assassin he will eventually hire, across a trio of duets both beautiful and thrilling, to the tragic conclusion, Rigoletto is simply a great opera. And Verdi knew he had struck gold. The most famous aria is the tenor's "song" in the final act, "La donna é mobile." Verdi knew it would be encored so he withheld it from rehearsals until just before the premiere, lest it leak prematurely and its thrilling final cadence lose the impact of surprise. While Verdi had already composed several enduring masterpieces, Rigoletto was the first in a trio of great operas (Il Trovatore and La Traviata)that cemented his reputation as the greatest opera composer of his day.
Join me at Virginia Western Community College 1/2 hour before the 12:55 curtain for more information about the opera and this exciting new production. Viva Verdi!