Giuseppe Verdi Rigoletto Analysis Essay
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And Mr. Beczala, looking jaunty and loose, sings with ringing tone and ardor, accompanied deftly by the 33-year-old Italian conductor Michele Mariotti, who has a sure feel for the give-and-take singers need to shape a Verdi line. This was an excellent outing for this rising conductor, who made his Met debut last fall in Bizet’s “Carmen.”
Of course, for Mr. Mayer, shifting the story to Las Vegas in the 1960s was no doubt the easy part. There are big holes in his concept, starting with the rather important character of Rigoletto, Verdi’s hunchbacked, pitiable and tormented court jester, sung here by the admirable Serbian baritone Zeljko Lucic.
Just who is this Las Vegas Rigoletto? Mr. Lucic first appears milling through the crowd at the casino, wearing a loud sweater. But what is his job? His role in the world of the Duke and the casino? We are never sure.
Mr. Miller made Rigoletto a bartender, a poignant idea. A lowly bartender in Little Italy, the butt of constant jokes, who must also keep the Duke and his mobsters amused, is an apt modern-day equivalent to a 16th-century jester. In an interview with The New York Times, Mr. Mayer said that he had modeled Rigoletto on aggressive comics, like Don Rickles, who could crack up Sinatra.
But the vagueness of the concept undermines Mr. Lucic’s otherwise affecting performance. He is an unconventional but compelling Verdian who does not have the classic mellow, Italianate baritone sound. Still, his voice is big and penetrating, focused and true. There is a smoky quality to his tone, with a slightly nasal texture that lends humanity to his singing. And his phrasing is supple and elegant.
At the end of the first scene in the opera as written, Monterone arrives at the court to denounce the Duke for having seduced his daughter. Mr. Mayer then makes a move that comes across as glib and potentially offensive. In another interview he said that he was worried that a curse, serious business in 16th-century Italy, might seem silly today. So he has turned Monterone into an Arab sheik.
But, as conceived by Verdi, Monterone is a count, lower than a duke but still an aristocrat. Making Monterone an exotic Arab marginalizes him. When the bass Robert Pomakov, who sang the role, appeared in his sheik’s grab, many in the audience laughed out loud. So much for lending new terror to the operatic curse.
The most moving episode of Mr. Mayer’s “Rigoletto” comes in Scene 2. Instead of shifting the action to an alley outside Rigoletto’s house, as the libretto indicates, Mr. Mayer keeps Rigoletto at the casino after everyone leaves and the lights are dimmed. As he thinks of his adored daughter, Gilda, whom he is trying to keep homebound and safe, Rigoletto is haunted by Monterone’s words.
A lanky young man alone at the bar, nursing a drink and smoking, speaks up. It is the ominous Sparafucile, here the strong bass Stefan Kocan. This is exactly the time and place at which a hit man might be likely to find business. Then, when Mr. Lucic sings Rigoletto’s great monologue, “Pari siamo,” comparing himself to Sparafucile (after all, they are both assassins, one using verbal barbs, the other a knife), he confides his thoughts to a bartender, who only half listens to this suffering man.
The scene in which Rigoletto meets Gilda, the brilliant soprano Diana Damrau, is beautifully staged. Rigoletto, in his floppy raincoat, and Gilda, in a sensible blue dress, look achingly vulnerable during their father-daughter exchange. Ms. Damrau sings the role radiantly, combining agile coloratura with plush, vibrant sound, the embodiment of youthful yearning and restlessness.
Act II in this staging is set in the Duke’s penthouse at the casino, and the set, with back walls covered with green curtains and a spiral staircase in the center of the room, is perfect for the concept. The Duke’s men, having abducted Gilda and taken her to the hotel, are lying about the place asleep after a night of drink and debauchery.
But in the opera’s most crucial scene, Mr. Mayer’s concept fails badly. Rigoletto is supposed to enter the palace in his jester’s costume, half-crazed and singing a ditty. He knows that the courtiers have taken Gilda but is impotent to act. In Mr. Mayer’s version, Mr. Lucic walks in wearing his raincoat, singing the ditty, looking just out of place. His discomfort was apparent. What is Rigoletto doing? A Don Rickles type would have burst into the room screaming, demanding to know where his Gilda was.
The last act is set in the place where Sparafucile lives with his sister, Maddalena (Oksana Volkova, a strong, rich mezzo-soprano in her Met debut), usually some dingy and depressing inn. But these siblings run a seedy club just outside the city. Here Mr. Mayer’s concept takes off. We briefly see a scantily clad pole dancer, leered at by a hunky guy. The club has garish furniture and large windows. Neon lights flicker in the background when the storm kicks up. And after poor Gilda is killed, her body is not put in a sack to be dragged to the river but dumped in the trunk of a fantailed Cadillac.
Mr. Mayer said he was prepared for the opening-night boos that usually greet a production team at the Met when a staging is contemporary. There were some boos but mostly cheers. The production was a frustrating mix of inventive and half-baked thinking. I wonder if Peter Gelb, who brought Mr. Mayer to the Met, thinks that new young audiences will relate to this modern production. Does the college-age set even know what the Rat Pack was?Continue reading the main story