Superb Rigoletto Set in 1960s Las Vegas

18/02/2013

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Verdi, Rigoletto, Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera in New York, Michele Mariotti (conductor), Michael Mayer (producer) transmitted live from the Met, 16.2.13 (RB)

Cast:

Rigoletto: Zelijko Lucic
Gilda: Diana Damrau
The Duke: Piotr Beczala
Sparafucile: Stefan Kocan
Maddalena: Oksana Volkova

This new production of Rigoletto from the Met transfers the action from 16th Century Mantua to 1960’s Las Vegas. Michael Mayer, who has overseen production design in a number of hit Broadway shows including ‘Spring Awakening’, was making his debut for the Met. The main action was set in a casino with neon signs lighting up the stage and giving a glitzy feel to the evening’s proceedings. The production makes allusions to various members of the ‘Rat Pack’ with cast members wearing tuxedos, singing from microphones and doing some dance numbers, while dancing girls cross the stage wearing sequined dresses and carrying huge brightly coloured fans. This production is very much in the mould of the earlier Jonathan Miller ENO re-working which sets the action in New York’s Little Italy and transforms the Duke into a mob boss.

Piotr Beczala’s Duke is an exuberant rogue who is out to have fun and to seduce as many women as he can irrespective of the consequences. He plays the part brilliantly exuding charisma and charm with flashing smiles and an easy manner while at the same time giving us an insight into the malicious and superficial elements of the character. He gets the party going with ‘Questo o quellawhich he sings with fake microphone in hand very much in the Sinatra mould. Beczala has a wonderfully resonant and expressive voice and was able to handle the upper register notes with effortless ease.

Serbian baritone, Zelijko Lucic, really gets beneath the skin of Rigoletto and shows us the breadth of this character in all his flawed humanity. He uses a range of tone colour to give us insights into this fascinating and multi-faceted character while deploying some highly expressive and nuanced phrasing. German soprano, Diana Damrau, has previously played the Queen of the Night and Zerbinetta in ‘Ariadne auf Naxos’ so she can handle high voltage coloratura. She gave us some exquisitely executed coloratura in this role and deployed a rich vibrato and wonderfully full tone when required. The Act 1 duets between Rigoletto and his daughter were superb with the two performers showing a real rapport and shared understanding of the score and creating a feeling of warmth and intimacy.

In Act 2 the action is set in the Duke’s penthouse apartment. Lucic’s performance of the great aria where Rigoletto pleads with the Duke’s entourage to return his daughter was heart breaking and was the most moving part of the opera for me. In showing us this emotional rawness and sense of anguish he made the final denouement to the opera seem all the more powerful. In the final aria, ‘Si Vendetta, tremenda vendetta’, Lucic showed his full range giving us some very powerful and impassioned singing.

Act 3 is set in a seedy lap dancing club and opens with a very scantily clad young woman dancing in front of a male admirer (a scene that I imagine will have raised some eyebrows). Beczala launched into ‘La donna e mobile’ with brio giving a confident and assured performance of this most famous of arias. He was clearly enjoying himself and whirled round the lap dancing pole at the end. In the wonderful quartet, Lucic and Damrau were joined by Stefan Kocan’s Sparafucile and Oksana Volkova’s Maddalena to give us an inspired piece of ensemble singing. The four singers were in perfect balance, harmonically assured and gave us some highly coloured and expressive singing. Gilda’s body in this production was dumped by Sparafucile in a Cadillac and it is in the boot of this car that she and Rigoletto sing their final farewells. There were a few transmission problems towards the end of the Act when this was happening which was a great shame but I guess these technical glitches will sometimes happen in live transmissions.

This was a first outing for the young rising star conductor, Michele Mariotti, who managed the orchestra brilliantly. He successfully kept orchestra and chorus on track in the big ensemble numbers, and he and the orchestra were flexible in allowing the singers space to explore both their characters and Verdi’s highly expressive vocal lines. We will no doubt be hearing a lot more from him in the future.

Altogether, a first class production with a superb cast that is well worth seeing. The 1960’s set will no doubt not be to everyone’s taste but I thoroughly enjoyed it and was pleased to see such a vivid and imaginative updating of such a mainstream opera.

Robert Beattie

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