Take the seemingly endless tinkering with opera that Peter Gelb and The Metropolitan Opera like to engage in, and ask one of the hottest directors around to re-imagine Verdi’s Rigoletto, and you end up with a fresh approach to an operatic warhorse that is sure to please many, and infuriate a traditionalists, too.”What was wrong with the OLD Rigoletto,” they cry. On February 16 in theatres around the world, you will have a chance to decide for yourself.The new Rigoletto will be transmitted beginning at 12:55 pm on February 16 with host Renée Fleming presiding over the proceedings. The opera runs about three hours (182 minutes, to be precise) including two intermissions.
Where to see it
In the Berkshires of Massachusetts, the live transmission can be enjoyed at four venues: the Beacon Cinema in Pittsfield, the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington, the North Adams Movieplex and the Clark Art Museum in Williamstown.
The Fanciful Production
As always, we like to talk a bit about the production before seeing it. Tony Award-winning director Michael Mayer (Spring Awakening) makes his Met debut with this new production of Verdi’s great opera. Rigoletto’s new staging moves the opera’s tragic events from a decadent 16th-century Italian court to the glitzy, depraved setting of the Las Vegas strip circa 1960. Polish tenor Piotr Beczala sings the Duke, an amoral lounge singer whose entourage includes the world-weary comedian Rigoletto, sung by Serbian baritone Željko Lučić. German soprano Diana Damrau sings the role of the innocent Gilda, Rigoletto’s daughter and the victim of the predatory Duke. Slovakian bass Štefan Kocán sings the assassin-for-hire Sparafucile and Belarusian mezzo-soprano Oksana Volkova makes her Met debut as his seductive sister, Maddalena. Italian conductor Michele Mariotti conducts his first company performances of the Verdi masterwork, which features one of the most famous arias in all of opera, “La donna è mobile.”
The reaction to the new staging has been interesting, yet it is the singing that still takes the headlines: “As the Duke, Piotr Beczala displays a “big, beautiful tenor with great presence,” and Mayer’s production “gives a contemporary immediacy to this tale of how power and vice corrupt everything around them… The strong cast of principals carries out the concept with gusto.” wrote The Wall Street Journal.
Michael Mayer has directed a diverse range of acclaimed performances on Broadway, on film, and on television. He is perhaps best known to theater audiences for directing two recent Tony Award-winning musicals, Spring Awakening and American Idiot. His additional Broadway credits include the musicals Triumph of Love, You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Everyday Rapture, and On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, and the plays ’Night Mother, After the Fall, An Almost Holy Picture, Uncle Vanya, The Lion in Winter, Side Man, and A View From the Bridge. He directed the films Flicka and A Home at the End of the World and several episodes of the Broadway-themed television series “Smash,” for which he serves as consulting producer.
Mayer looked to 1960s Las Vegas as a setting that “could hold the universal story of this great masterpiece…a very licentious world where there is an obsession with money and power and sex—where pranks and a kind of trickster energy could go bad. There is this fascination we have with Vegas as this place to escape the responsibilities of our daily lives. It is designed for pleasure; you’re not obliged to take any accountability for your actions when you’re there. But there are often consequences to actions that get out of hand. And I think that this opera really speaks to the danger and the potential tragedy inside that kind of irresponsibility.”
Michele Mariotti, the Principal Conductor of Teatro Comunale in Bologna, made his Met debut earlier this season leading Bizet’s Carmen. The Pesaro-born conductor has led high-profile performances of a varied repertory in Bologna, including Carmen, Bellini’s I Puritani, Mozart’s Idomeneo and Le Nozze di Figaro, Rossini’s La Gazza Ladra and La Cenerentola, and Verdi’s La Traviata and Simon Boccanegra. Later this season, he will conduct additional Met performances of Carmen and a new production of Rossini’s La Donna del Lago at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden.
Željko Lučić has sung Rigoletto at many of the world’s leading opera houses, including the Met (in 2009 and 2011), La Scala, Paris Opera, Cologne Opera, and the Teatro Real in Madrid. He made his Met debut in 2006 as Barnaba in Ponchielli’s La Gioconda. His other starring roles with the company include the title role in the 2007 new production premiere of Verdi’s Macbeth, Giorgio Germont in La Traviata, di Luna in Verdi’s Il Trovatore, Michele in Puccini’s Il Tabarro, Enrico in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, and the title role in Verdi’s Nabucco. Later this season, Lučić will sing the title roles in Simon Boccanegra and Macbeth at the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, and Renato in a new production of Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera at La Scala.Diana Damrau has sung at the Met every season since her celebrated 2005 debut as Zerbinetta in Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos. Her Met roles have included Rosina in the new production premiere of Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia and Countess Adèle in the Met premiere of his Le Comte Ory; Aithra in the new production premiere of Strauss’s Die Ägyptische Helena; both Pamina and the Queen of the Night in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte and Konstanze in his Die Entführung aus dem Serail; the title roles in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor and La Fille du Régiment and Adina in his L’Elisir d’Amore; and Gilda, which she sang at the Met in 2009 and 2011 and has also sung with Zurich Opera, Bavarian State Opera, and Dresden Opera. This March at the Met, she will make her role debut as Violetta in La Traviata.
Piotr Beczala made his Met debut as the Duke of Mantua in 2006 and returned to the role with the company in 2009 and 2011. He has also sung the Duke with Zurich Opera and Paris Opera. His most recent Met performances were as the Chevalier des Grieux in last season’s new production premiere of Massenet’s Manon. He has sung four additional roles at the Met to critical acclaim: Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor, Lenski in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, Rodolfo in La Bohème, and Roméo in Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette. In March, he will make his Met role debut as the title character in Gounod’s Faust.
Synopsis – The New Rigoletto
At his casino, the Duke boasts of his way with women. He dances with the Countess Ceprano, while Rigoletto, the Duke’s hunchbacked sidekick and sometime comedian, mocks the countess’s enraged but helpless husband, Count Ceprano. Marullo, one of the Duke’s entourage, bursts in with the latest gossip: Rigoletto is suspected of keeping a young mistress at his place. Rigoletto, unaware of the news, continues to taunt Ceprano, who plots with the others to punish him. Monterone, an Arab tycoon, forces his way into the crowd to denounce the Duke for seducing his daughter and is viciously ridiculed by Rigoletto. Monterone is arrested and curses Rigoletto.
Rigoletto is disturbed by Monterone’s curse. He encounters Sparafucile, a hitman, who offers his services. Rigoletto reflects that his own tongue is as sharp as the murderer’s knife. Arriving at home he warmly greets his daughter, Gilda. Afraid for the girl’s safety, he warns the housekeeper, Giovanna, not to let anyone into the apartment. When Rigoletto leaves, the Duke appears and bribes Giovanna, who lets him in. He declares his love for Gilda, who has secretly admired him at church, and tells her he is a poor student. After he has left, Gilda tenderly thinks of her newfound love before going to bed. The Duke’s entourage gathers, intending to abduct Rigoletto’s “mistress.” Rigoletto appears and they quickly change their story, telling him they are abducting the Countess Ceprano, and enlist his aid in their scheme. But they have deceived him and it is Gilda they carry off, with Rigoletto’s unwitting assistance. He rushes in to discover that his daughter is gone and collapses as he remembers Monterone’s curse.
At the casino, the Duke is distraught about the abduction of Gilda. When his entourage returns and tells him the story of how they took the girl from Rigoletto’s apartment and left her in the Duke’s rooms, he hurries off to her. Rigoletto enters, looking for Gilda. The entourage is astonished to find out that she is his daughter rather than his mistress, but they prevent him from storming into the Duke’s apartment. Rigoletto violently denounces them for their cruelty, then asks for compassion. Gilda appears and runs in shame to her father, who orders the others to leave. Alone with Rigoletto, Gilda tells him of the Duke’s courtship, of her abduction, and her seduction by the Duke. Monterone is brought in as he is being taken away by the Duke’s men, and Rigoletto swears that both he and the old man will be avenged. Gilda begs her father to forgive the Duke.
Rigoletto and Gilda arrive at a seedy club on the outskirts of town where Sparafucile and his sister Maddalena live. Inside, the Duke laughs at the fickleness of women. Gilda and Rigoletto watch through the window as the Duke amuses himself with Maddalena. Rigoletto tells Gilda to leave town disguised as a man and pays Sparafucile to murder the Duke. Gilda returns to overhear Maddalena urge her brother to spare the handsome stranger and kill the hunchback instead. Sparafucile refuses to murder Rigoletto but agrees to kill the next person who arrives at the club, so that he will be able to produce a dead body. Gilda decides to sacrifice herself for the Duke. She knocks, enters the club, and is stabbed. Rigoletto returns and Sparafucile presents him with the body, which is wrapped in a trenchcoat with its face covered. Assuming it is the Duke’s, Rigoletto gloats over the body, when he hears his supposed victim singing in the distance. Frantically pulling the covering aside, he finds his daughter, who dies asking his forgiveness. Horrified, Rigoletto remembers Monterone’s curse.