Rigoletto (Metropolitan Opera)

30rigoletto-1-articleLarge-v2Verdi’s gloriously dark, 1851 masterpiece Rigoletto, his superbly crafted study of corruption, greed and revenge, may be one of the world’s most performed and most popular works in the operatic canon, but it is fairly safe to say that the majority of audiences probably will not have seen a production quite like the Met’s new radical interpretation from director Michael Mayer.

I must confess that my heart sank when I first discovered that Verdi’s towering Sixteenth century Italian tragedy, centred around the palace of the licentious Duke of Mantua, was to be updated to the neon-clad casinos of 1960’s, Rat-Pack era Las Vegas, but having now witnessed the production for myself, I have to admit that it works wonderfully and this new world is the perfect setting to both enhance the central themes of the piece and make the character’s more familiar and relatable to the audience, ultimately delivering a clearer presentation of the story.

However, on the other hand, I do feel that sadly this new production threatens to sacrifice some of the raw power and the endearing, emotional impact that should be drawn from the piece, and that I feel would come across stronger in a more traditional staging, as there are a few moments in this production where style does begin to overpower plot and content.

Luckily though, in terms of sheer vocal quality and musicality, the production could not be in safer hands, and we are gifted a central quartet of four of the world’s finest singers and interpreters of these complex and challenging roles, presided over by the exciting young Italian maestro, Michele Mariotti, conducting his first company performances of the great work.

rigoletto30f-2-webSerbian baritone Zeljko Lucic is in tremendous form as the eponymous hunchbacked jester, a role he knows backwards and has performed in houses worldwide, although, with this production it is never made fully clear what Rigoletto’s position within the casino actually is and I can’t help but feel that this slightly hampers his characterisation of the role. Though Lucic is poignant and affecting in his performance, he never seems fully settled in this ‘new direction’ the character has taken and is not given enough chance to grow into the role. However, in terms of vocals, he delivers a powerful, compelling and mightily impressive delivery of the role, and his rich, elegant and penetrating baritone is a joy to behold.

Polish tenor Piotr Beczala is proving himself as one of the world’s finest and most reliable lyric tenors, once again on fine form as the womanising Duke of Mantua, now transformed as a Frank Sinatra-esque, leader-of-the-pack, playboy , delivering the role with wonderful levels of technique, clarity and flair.

German soprano Diana Damrau is equally as strong as Rigoletto’s naive daughter, Gilda, delivering a beautifully sung, emotional and beautifully nuanced performance of what is a complex and slightly under developed role.

Completing the central quarter is the wonderful Slovakian bass-baritone, Stefan Kocan, delivering an effectively chilling and expertly sung performance as the ominous assassin Sparafucile.

The up and coming 33-year-old Italian conductor, maestro Michele Mariotti, presides over the stunning Met orchestra with vibrancy, confidence and finesse, giving a fine shape and tone to the piece and drawing out a fresh, powerful and energetic rendering of what is arguably one of Verdi’s greatest and most chilling scores.

4-rig1_3596aThe production once again reunites Tony award winning director Mayer (Spring Awakening) with the team behind the smash hit 2010 Broadway musical ‘American Idiot’, including fellow Tony award winners Christine Jones and Kevin Adams, who won for Best Scenic Design and Best Lighting Design respectively. Christine Jones’s very effective, neon heavy set design perfectly evokes the sleazy atmosphere of the era, cleverly contrasting the masked, underlying corruption of a darker, subdued ‘after hours’ with the glittering, ornate, glamour of the casino in full swing. Susan Hilferty’s costume design is equally effective and in-keeping with the theme of the piece, with Rigoletto’s wonderful knitted cardigan proving a particular highlight of the production! Kevin Adams is on top form with his lighting design and utilises the neon heavy set to perfection, most memorably in the smoky, after hours scenes weaved throughout the piece, and in the third act as the thunderstorm begins to build towards the opera’s dramatic climax.

This new production is understandably not going to be for everyone, there have been some strange decisions made (Count Monterone transformed into an Arab sheik being a particularly strange one) and it does take a bit of getting used to, however, I must say that I was very pleasantly surprised by how effective the new setting was at clearly conveying the story and central themes of the piece.

The next Live In HD broadcast will be on March 2 at 12:00 pm ET / 5:00 pm GMT, with François Girard’s new production of Wagner’s final masterpiece Parsifal starring Jonas Kauffman in the title role and fellow Wagnerian luminaries including Katarina Dalayman as the mysterious Kundry, Peter Mattei as the ailing Amfortas, Evgeny Nikitin as the wicked Klingsor, and René Pape as the noble knight Gurnemanz. Daniele Gatti conducts.

Running time: 3 hrs. 30 minutes (approx.)

Photography: Ken Howard

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