Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Cold Mountain, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia deserves congratulations on yet another coup. The company co-commissioned Cold Mountain, an opera by Jennifer Higdon based on Gene Scheer’s adaptation of Charles Frazier’s celebrated Civil War epic.

Christian Gerhaher Wolfgang Rihm Wigmore Hall

For their first of two recitals at the Wigmore Hall, Christian Gerhaher and Gerold Huber devised an interesting programme - popular Schubert mixed with songs by Wolfgang Rihm and by Huber himself.

Götterdämmerung in Palermo

There are not many opera productions that you would cross oceans to see. Graham Vick’s Götterdämmerung in Sicily however compelled such a voyage.

Emmanuel Chabrier L’Étoile — Royal Opera House London

Premièred in 1877 at Offenbach’s own Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens, Emmanuel Chabrier’s L’Étoile has a libretto, by Eugène Leterrier and Albert Vanloo, which stirs the blackly comic, the farcical and the bizarre into a surreal melange, blending contemporary satire with the frankly outlandish.

Robert Ashley’s Quicksand at the Kitchen

Robert Ashley’s opera-novel Quicksand makes for a novel experience

Premiere of Raskatov’s Green Mass

One of the leading Russian composers of his generation, Alexander Raskatov’s reputation in the UK and western Europe derives from several, recent large-scale compositions, such as his reconstruction of Alfred Schnittke’s Ninth Symphony from a barely legible manuscript (the work was first performed in 2007 in the Dresden Frauenkirche by the Dresden Philharmonic under Dennis Russell Davies), and his 2010 opera A Dog’s Heart, based on Mikhail Bulgakov’s satire (which was directed by Simon McBurney at English National Opera in 2010, following the opera’s premiere at Netherlands Opera earlier that year).

Orpheus in the Underworld, Opera Danube

I’m not sure that St John’s Smith Square was the most appropriate venue for Opera Danube’s latest production: Jacques Offenbach’s satirical frolic, Orpheus in the Underworld.

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk in Lyon

This nasty little opera evening in Lyon lived up to the opera’s initial reputation as pure pornophony. This is the erotic Shostakovich of the D minor cello sonata, it is the sarcastic and complicated Shostakovich of The Nose . . .

Bel Canto: A World Premiere at Lyric Opera of Chicago

During December 2015 and presently in January Lyric Opera of Chicago has featured the world premiere of the opera Bel Canto, with music by Jimmy López and libretto by Nilo Cruz, based on the novel by Ann Patchett.

Tosca, Royal Opera

Christmas at the Royal Opera House is all about magic, mystery and miracles: as represented by the conjuror’s exploits in The Nutcracker — with its Kingdom of Sweets and Sugar Plum Fairy — or, as in the Linbury Theatre this year, the fantastical adventures of the Firework-Maker’s Daughter, Lila, and her companions — a lovesick elephant, swashbuckling pirates, tropical beasts and Fire-Fiends.

Lianna Haroutounian resplendent in Madama Butterfly at the Concertgebouw

The title role is a deciding factor in Madama Butterfly. Despite a last-minute conductor cancellation, last Saturday’s concert performance at the Concertgebouw was a resounding success, thanks to Lianna Haroutounian’s opulent, heart-stealing Cio-Cio-San.

Classical Opera: MOZART 250 — 1766: A Retrospective

With this performance of vocal and instrumental works composed by the 10-year-old Mozart and his contemporaries during 1766, Classical Opera entered the second year of their 27-year project, MOZART 250, which is designed to ‘contextualise the development and influences of [sic] the composer’s artistic personality’ and, more audaciously, to ‘follow the path that subsequently led to some of the greatest cornerstones of our civilisation’.

Benjamin Appl — Schubert, Wigmore Hall London

Luca Pisaroni and Wolfram Rieger were due to give the latest installment in the Wigmore Hall's complete Schubert songs series, but both had to cancel at short notice. Fortunately, the Wigmore Hall rises to such contingencies, and gave us Benjamin Appl and Jonathan Ware. Since there's a huge buzz about Appl, this was an opportunity to hear more of what he can do.

Ferrier Awards Winners’ Recital

The phrase ‘Sunday afternoon concert’ may suggest light, post-prandial entertainment, but soprano Gemma Lois Summerfield and her accompanist, Simon Lepper, swept away any such conceptions in this demanding programme at St. John’s Smith Square.

Pelléas et Mélisande at the Barbican

When, o when, will someone put Peter Sellars and his compendium of clichés out of our misery?

L'Arpeggiata: La dama d’Aragó, Wigmore Hall

Having recently followed some by-ways through the music of Purcell, Monteverdi and Cavalli, L’Arpeggiata turned the spotlight on traditional folk music in this characteristically vibrant and high-spirited performance at the Wigmore Hall.

Tippett : A Child of Our Time, London

Edward Gardner brought all his experience as a choral and opera conductor to bear in this stirring performance of Michael Tippett’s A Child of Our Time at the Barbican Hall, with a fine cast of soloists, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus.

Taverner and Tavener, Fretwork, London

‘Apt for voices or viols’: eager to maximise sales among the domestic market in Elizabethan England, publishers emphasised that the music contained in collections such as Thomas Morley’s First Book of Madrigals to Four Voices of 1594 was suitable for performance by any combination of singers and players.

Fall of the House of Usher in San Francisco

It was a single title but a double bill and there was far more happening than Gordon Getty and Claude Debussy. Starting with Edgar Allen Poe.

The Merry Widow at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its latest production of the current season Lyric Opera of Chicago is presenting Franz Lehár’s The Merry Widow (Die lustige Witwe) featuring Renée Fleming /Nicole Cabell as the widow Hanna Glawari and Thomas Hampson as Count Danilo Danilovich.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Diana Damrau as Gilda [Photo by Ken Howard courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera]
26 Feb 2013

Rigoletto at the Met

Michael Mayer’s glitzy neon lights production, set in Rat Pack-era Sin City, proves a fitting backdrop for an opera about a curse

Rigoletto at the Met

A review by David Rubin

Above: Diana Damrau as Gilda [Photo by Ken Howard courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera]

 

Director Michael Mayer has successfully filled an inside straight in moving the Metropolitan Opera’s new Rigoletto from 16th century Mantua to early ’60s Las Vegas.

Instead of a hunchback court jester, the Vegas Rigoletto is a waspish casino comic with only a bit of padding under the left shoulder of his sweater to suggest a very slight disability. That sweater is a red, orange, green and white horror in an argyle or Harlequin pattern, providing a single link to Verdi’s jester. This Rigoletto does not limp around, even when the rhythm of his music in Act Two (“La ra, la ra, la ra”) demands it.

The womanizing Duke of Mantua, now just “Duke,” is supposedly Frank Sinatra, the leader of the Rat Pack of entertainers who are more or less portrayed in this production (Dean Martin and Peter Lawford among them). He spends most of the opera in a white dinner jacket, surrounded by “courtiers” decked out in glittering dinner jackets of every hue, each in worse taste than the last.

The setting for the first two acts is a casino. Neon, whiskey bottles, dice tables and lounge chairs occupy the set. The third act moves to a house of prostitution with a private room and a pole for dancing. In a decision quite unlike Auntie Met, that pole had a lady slithering around it, naked from the waste up except for pasties hiding her nipples. (This is a non-singing part, in case you are new to this opera.)

The Met also permitted a slangy updating of the text translations used in the titling system. For the most part these titles conveyed the vernacular of the swinging sixties, although there was too much reliance on “baby” and such howlers as “you send me to the moon.”

Mayer deserves great praise for making sense of a scene that misfires in every other production of this opera I have seen: the kidnapping of Rigoletto’s daughter Gilda from her house. This is usually done with a ladder and men in masks on a dark stage. When Rigoletto blunders unwittingly into the scene, the kidnappers blindfold him, spin him around a few times and then set him to work helping in the abduction of his own daughter. This always misfires.

In Mayer’s conception, Rigoletto lives with Gilda in a high-rise apartment building at stage left that is adjacent to the casino. At stage right is a second high rise, identical in appearance. This time when Rigoletto comes upon the scene, the kidnappers send him up the elevator of the other high rise to kidnap a different woman. By the time he realizes the others are not joining him in this caper and descends, they have snatched Gilda, leaving her guardian drugged, bound, and lying on the elevator floor.

Two miscalculations by Mayer keep this production from being a royal flush. The first puzzler is that the curse against Rigoletto is delivered by an Arab sheikh (still named, inexplicably, “Monterone”). This introduces religious and political issues into the opera that are a distraction, and wholly unnecessary. Monterone could just as well have been a gangster whose daughter the Duke has seduced. An angry father is an angry father — Arab or Italian.

The second is the curse itself. While being cursed in 16th century Mantua may have had a devastating psychological effect, it is hard to imagine that this lounge comic in Vegas is going to be unhinged by one. The Duke and his pals were probably cursing everyone all the time, and much worse. Given that the curse (la maledizione) is at the center of the story and is the last word Rigoletto sings when his beloved Gilda dies, it doesn’t carry the ominous meaning suggested in the music. Perhaps if Mayer had set the opera in a religious community where curse words are a sin, it might have meant something. But he didn’t.

Still, it was fun — not that the Vegas setting shed any new light on this warhorse. Indeed, despite interviewer Renée Fleming’s leading questions during the intermissions, neither Diana Damrau (Gilda) nor Željko Lučić (Rigoletto) would be baited into admitting that the Vegas setting had made them look any differently at these roles. They should be praised for their honesty — although Mayer and Peter Gelb, the Met’s General Manager, were no doubt hoping for different responses.

Vocally there was much to admire. As Gilda, Diana Damrau offered power and impeccable intonation. Her voice is weightier, but no less agile, than those of Roberta Peters or Reri Grist, two quite different Gildas. The part seems easy for Damrau. Caro Nome was carefully phrased and made a strong impression, and she was rewarded with the largest ovation of the afternoon. She has become too matronly for the virgin Gilda, so this was not the best casting choice for HD, but as a singer she cannot be faulted.

RIG1_0526a.pngPiotr Beczala as the Duke and Emalie Savoy as Countess Ceprano

Tenor Piotr Beczala was having fun as Duke, or the Duke. ‘La donna e mobile’ was tossed off with swagger, and he concluded it by swinging around that pole in Sparafucile’s brothel. His voice reminds me of Nicolai Gedda’s, another non-Italian who was a successful Duke. Beczala is a handsome man with an open face and great stage presence. He is made for the close-ups of these HD telecasts.

The best singing came from the Sparafucile of bass Štefan Kocán. His voice is deeply black with a sinister character that matches his snake-like characterization. (He will be singing Konchak in the Met’s new Prince Igor in the 2013-14 season.) The scene in Act One when he introduces himself to Rigoletto and offers his services as an assassin was chilling, helped along by the believable after-hours setting at the casino bar.

Oksana Volkova as Maddalena, Sparafucile’s prostitute sister, has legs that never quit and a smoldering middle-European pout, but her voice was a size too small for the part.

That is also one problem for Lučić’s Rigoletto. His baritone is on the dry side, and he sometimes sang flat. However, he is very experienced and had the measure of this part. But ‘Cortigiani, vil razza dannata,’ when he damns the rat packers who kidnapped Gilda, lacked frenzy, and the farewell to his dying daughter lacked pathos. He does not act with his face, and the HD close-ups did him no favors. His facial expressions often did not match his words, and his singing could be too smooth. Rigoletto has to snarl and howl, even in Las Vegas.

The young conductor Michele Mariotti kept things moving quickly, and coordination between the stage and the pit seemed exemplary.

Christine Jones designed the casino set, and Susan Hilferty provided costumes that extended its Vegas glitz. The neon was courtesy of lighting director Kevin Adams, who used it to good effect in the storm scene in Act Three.

In sum, Mayer has dealt the Met a winning hand with this Rigoletto, one that should appeal to audiences for at least the next decade.

David Rubin

This review first appeared at CNY Café Momus on 17 February 2013. It is reprinted with the permission of the author.

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):