by Giuseppe Verdi & Francesco Maria Piave
Watched last night via Met HD's theater broadcasts
Originally set in 16th century Mantua, the tragedy of Verdi's Rigoletto has been transported to 1960s Las Vegas in the Met's elaborate new production. The Duke, a lounge singer who pursues beautiful women with a healthy appetite, counts as a member of his entourage Rigoletto, a bitter jester with a sharp wit and sharper tongue. Rigoletto's only joy comes from his angelic, beautiful daughter Gilda, whom he has raised in careful seclusion to protect her from his enemies (and the ever-roving eye of his employer!). When a disgraced courtier - now a sheik in long robes - curses Rigoletto and the Duke, Rigoletto's world begins unraveling. His daughter is kidnapped by his rivals, and she's attracted the attention of the womanizing Duke...and all Rigoletto can do is plot his revenge on those who have wronged his family.
It's Rigoletto as he's never been seen before, in argyle grandpa sweaters cracking jokes like the meanest stand-up comedian. Initially, I wasn't sure about the modern location - as a general rule, I don't go for "updated" historical plays. But Rigolettell worked very well in the Las Vegas setting. The story is so strong and self-contained that it could take place anywhere, any time, and it would be believable as long as the relationship between Rigoletto and his daughter is loving and believable. But if the story had to be modernized, Las Vegas has right combination of giddy thrills and menacing underbelly to serve as a new Renaissance court. Plus, all those gamblers have enough superstition to make the threat of a curse seem truly terrible.
The colorful sets and choreography often made me think of Broadway, so it isn't really a surprise to learn that Michael Mayer, the director behind Spring Awakening and American Idiot, directed the show in his operatic debut. Although at times the choreography seemed a little too "jazz hands" for opera, the staging generally worked really well. The set looked fantastic when it was lit up with all those neon lights, and over the course of the show the shape and colors of the neon lights evolved to reflect the darker emotions of the final act.
Dad said that this was the best Rigoletto he's ever seen, and when it comes to the singing I have to agree. Everyone was fantastic. I thought Zeljko Lucic looked like a heavier Steve Martin in this role, but that's probably just me. He was great, though - he made Rigoletto a completely sympathetic character while still keeping enough nastiness about the clown so that you could see just why everyone hates him. His daughter, played by Diana Damrau, was appropriately pretty and bland. I always wonder about Gilda - I mean, she's a classic abuse victim, returning to her abuser (in this case, the Duke) for more even though he treats her terribly. Was she kept in seclusion to protect her from the dangers of the outside world - or from herself? She comes off as dumb as dirt in most shows, but there's a sweetness to Damrau's performance that made me feel sorry for poor Gilda.
The Duke steals the show, as always. He gets the best songs, and Piotr Beczala sounded amazing singing "Questa o quella?" and "La donna e mobile". Even though he's a creep and a bad man, you can't help but enjoy his enthusiasm for the sport of his choice. No one chases tail like the Duke!