Time for the newest in the occasional opera series initated by Demi Moaned, continued by chingchongchinaman, and hosted tonight by Blue State Redhead, a new comer to this thread and to writing about opera. She has been asked to lead a discussion of the Met’s new production of Rigoletto. It moves Verdi’s drama from the 16th century to 1960, and from the court in Mantua Italy of an all powerful decadent sexual amoral Duke to the Las Vegas of an equally decadent casino owner-lounge singer and his predatory entourage of hangers-on and enablers. We begin with a variant on 3C’s standard start-up question:
Did anyone see today’s HD-cast of of what is being called the Vulgar Vegas or Ratpack Rigoletto?
If not, has anyone seen any other of the many modern-day setting of Rigoletto, so we can fathom why this one has critics writing that “what happened in Vegas should have have stayed in Mantua”?
To get from Mantua to Vegas, follow me over the flip.
Since Verdi’s title does not tell you much about the opera as he conceived it, a brief description follows of one of its most important elements—the Curse. Full synopses are found here—one of the Met’s traditional setting http://www.metoperafamily.org/...
And, since the transportation of the opera to La Vegas requires a bit of rejiggering, the new one, which seems to insepararable from the program—
That the production is one of the most talked about of the Met’s new productions is not entirely surprising, given that the director, Michael Mayer, was making his debut as an opera director, having made his name while winning a Tony award for his staging of the rock musical Spring Awakening. He brought along the designers for the sets (Christine Jones) and costumes (Susan Hilferty) with whom he worked there. The singers were, to the contrary, on familiar ground: Željko Lučić in the title role and Diana Damrau as his beloved daughter, Gilda, are experienced interpreters of their roles, having sung them at the Met in a previous production as well as elsewhere. The Piotr Beczala, the tenor who is the womanizing Duke, has gained a world-wide reputation and his "La donna e mobile" was supposed to be a much anticipated treat. The conductor, however, Michele Mariotti, was making his Met debut and did so to a decidedly mixed reception (although it seems to the Rookie Reviewer that the Met's lack of a permanent conductor has unleashed a quasi-permanent conductor bashing tendency among reviewers ).
Verdi’s tragic drama is of a father’s search for revenge for the seduction of his daughter by a sexual predator who happens to be the ruler of the court where he serves as jester. The catalyst for the drama, so much so that Verdi wanted to name the opera for it, is a curse on Rigoletto that he roundly deserves. It is also the crux of the difficulty of putting the opera in a modern setting, the old-fashioned bit that the Met’s director Michael Mayer decided could be cast aside, and for this rookie reviewer, the only unforgiveable among all the liberties he took.
So that it’s very clear, had it not been for the casting out of the curse, I could have lived with the obvious references to Sammy Davis et al, the gazillion neon signs, the chorus girls, and the parodies of the Met’s own sixties décor—in fact, I could have enjoyed them all. The principals’ performances have been generally acclaimed by the otherwise outraged critics, with hemming and hawing about interpretation that I leave the more knowledgeable among you to read for yourself at the links I add at the end.
So what is the Curse that I find could not be done away with? How important is it?
Important enough to have its own leitmotiv, that’s how.
The curse is pronounced by a father who has come to court seeking revenge for the dishonoring of his daughter before the audience and the court knows that Rigoletto has a daughter, and whom Rigoletto has mocked, taking advantage of the freedom he enjoys as a jester. He is (as he calls himself) the Duke’s verbal stiletto, his insulter-in-chief, as well as as an enable of his seductions. The courtiers, fed up with his insults, plan revenge by kidnapping the woman who has been seen in Rigoletto’s house whom they believe to be his mistress. She is, in fact his daughter, whom he has hidden away, allowing out her only for church service, where she has been seen by the Duke. She has fallen in love with him—thinking he is a poor student—a misapprehension he encourages when he gains access to her by bribing the not-very-vigilant duenna/nurse who guards her. Abduction, then rape follows, and when Rigoletto arrives at court and reveals that it is his daughter who has been raped, the once vicious unsympathetic figure earns is transforms into an object of our pity.
Rigoletto, while continually troubled by the curse that he who has laughed at a father’s grief will himself come to grief has no qualms about plotting his revenge against the all powerfulDuke. He finds an assassin for hire. The assassin and Rigoletto prepare to lure the Duke to his death with a prostitute only to have Gilda, whom Rigoletto has taken to the place of ambush so she can see the true nature of man she still loves, allows herself to be killed in his place. After a final duet with his dying daughter, Rigoletto recalls the curse as it is fulfilled.
For Mayer, the Vegas setting does away with the need for the curse, which he calls an “archaic plot-driver” whose “urgency” is “a bit of a stretch for modern audiences.” Vegas, he says, is the place where we believe irresponsibility is allowed –as in what stays in Vegas. In his opera, Vegas irresponsibility has consequences. Vegas brings “Verdi’s indictment of moral decay to the fore.” To make the curse unimportant, he had it pronounced by an Arab sheik—claiming that there were Arab investors in Vegas at the time. The sheik is disposed of by the duke’s enforcers, on stage. Who then is the power behind the curse of which Rigoletto keeps singing, whose leitmotif is heard ominously from beginning to end. Why an Arab and not a mafioso, also historically accurate? A mafioso with a horse’s head would have made the curse plausible, as how many millions of people who still have nightmares decades after seeing The Godfather, could confirm. Are we asking to see an opera but no hear it? If so, the Rookie Reviewer asks, is this not a cardinal sin that all the neon --and there is 6,000 feet of it--cannot cover?
Some reviewers, unhappier than your diarist and one happy one:
Sun Feb 17, 2013 at 7:46 AM PT: Link to stand alone Synopsis and Cast List is on the Met Live in HD schedule page