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Saturday, September 3, 2016

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Rigoletto

Verdi's great tragedy goes back to Vegas.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Željko Lučić sings Rigoletto and all your lounge favorites.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2016 The Metropolitan Opera.
Verdi's tragedy of a hunchback laboring under a curse and the tyrannical rule of his philandering boss, presented here in the strange disguise of a lounge lizard singer in the mode of Frank Sinatra.



What is Rigoletto?
One of the great opera tragedies, Rigoletto combines traumatic events with hummable tunes. It was the opera that broke Giuseppe Verdi into the stratosphere and remains at the core of the repertory of any opera house.

What's Rigoletto about?
This is the story of a hunchbacked jester in service to the Duke of Mantua, a ruler whose love 'em and leave 'em policy makes him like Don Giovanni without the class. Rigoletto's efforts to protect his daughter Gilda from his boss prove futile as she is kidnapped and raped. Vowing revenge, the jester pays a hitman to take out his boss, but the plan backfires in the worst possible way.

What's the music like?
Verdi threw out the 19th century opera rulebook in writing Rigoletto, substituting dialogue for recitative and dramatic soliloquys for the more traditional aria structure. That said, he peppered the opera with memorable tunes: the Duke's "Quest'o quella" and "La donna é mobilé", and Gilda's lovely aria "Caro nome."

Who's in it?
Željko Lučić created the part for this Michael Mayer production. He is ideal casting as the doomed jester at the heart of this Verdi opera. His ethically questionable employer is played by alternating tenors Joseph Calleja is the new Duke while Stephen Costello has sung the role in this production before. Soprano Olga Peretyatko is eminently qualified to take the role of Gilda. Pier Giorgio Morandi, a name unknown to this writer, will be in the pit.

How's the production?
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.

Why should I see it?
No matter where it's set, Rigoletto remains one of the great opera tragedies, the story of a father who loves his daughter so much that he accidentally engineers...oh hell I'm not going to spoil the last act for you. Go see it, and wait for your heart to jump into your mouth in the third act.

When does it open?
The Met's Vegas production of Rigoletto returns to the Met on January 20, 2017.

Where can I get tickets?
Tickets  are available through MetOpera.Org or by calling the box office at (212) 362-6000. You can save service fees by going to the box office in person at the Met itself, located at 30 Lincoln Center Plaza. Hours: Monday to Saturday: 10am-8pm, Sunday: 12pm-6pm.

Which recording should I get?
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)
Rafael Kubelik conducts an intelligent reading of the score featuring baritone Dietrich 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)
Carlo Maria 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.

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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.