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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Rigoletto

A new cast takes over the Met's "Vegas" Verdi revue.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Shake it baby: Piotr Beczala goes Vegas in Rigoletto.
Photo © 2015 The Metropolitan Opera.
This year's revival features Simon Keenlyside's return to the Met stage in the title role. He'll be relieved by Željko Lučić who sang this production when it premiered in 2013. The Duke will be sung by original lounge lizard Piotr Beczala, who will eventually be replaced by Stephen Costello. The key role of Gilda--Rigoletto's treasured daughter and the latest object of the Duke's depredations--is sung by Olga Peretyatko, who made a splash a few seasons back in I Puritani. Nadine Sierra sings the later performances.
On opening night, this production received critical acclaim tempered by a loud chorus of boos in Act III. These were mostly directed at the set, which reimagined Sparafucile's sleazy tavern as a low-rent strip club complete with pole and a topless blonde. However, Mr. Mayer's setting of the drama is theatrically effective, with a car trunk (as the planned method of body disposal) serving as the bleak tableau for the final tragedy.

(The following paragraph was originally published on Superconductor in the Jan. 14 revew "Trunk Music." Here's a link to the whole review.)

Michael Mayer's neon-lit martini-fueled production of Rigoletto updates the action to the 1960s and uproots the whole sleazy "Mantua" court to Las Vegas. The Duke is reimagined as a beloved "lounge lizard" entertainer at the center of his own Rat Pack. Rigoletto is his "Don Rickles", the comic who warms up the audience and fall guy. Gilda is...well, Gilda--pretty, helpless and locked in their hotel suite by her overprotective father who knows just how dangerous the street of Sin City are.

Rigoletto returns Oct. 20.
Recording Recommendations: 

Rigoletto is the opera that cemented Verdi's reputation as a master of Italian opera, and the first of his "big three" with Il Trovatore and La Traviata immediately following. There are some great recordings in the catalogue. Here's two:

Coro e Orchestra del La Scala cond. Rafael Kubelik (DG, 1961)
Rigoletto: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
The Duke: Carlo Bergonzi
Gilda: Renata Scotto
Kubelik conducts an intelligent reading of the score featuring Fischer-Dieskau as the hunchbacked jester. The German lieder specialist acquits himself well in Italian. Carlo Bergonzi is a fabulous, virile Duke, well matched with the young Renata Scotto.

Vienna Philharmonic cond. Carlo Maria Giulini (DG, 1980)

Rigoletto: Piero Cappuccili
The Duke: Placído Domingo
Gilda: Ileana Cotrubas

Giulini's methodical approach to the score is not loved by everybody, but the man conducted a fine Rigoletto. Domingo makes a rare foray into bad-guy territory here, reaching to the very top of his voice and virility.  The great Piero Cappuccilli is the thinking man's Rigoletto: equal parts monster and caring father in the title role.


Tickets for Rigoletto are available at MetOpera.Org, by calling (212) 362-6000, or at the box office.

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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.