The opera opens at the "Duke's Palace" casino and nightclub, decorated with a bright and beautiful collage of neon signage. The Duke (tenor Piotr Beczala) is the pivot point of a "Rat Pack"-like entourage of libertine hangers-on. Rigoletto (Željko Lučić), plays an amalgam of Joey Bishop and Don Rickles as The Duke's comic foil, generally despised by the other sycophants due to his biting insults. There was plenty of color and action in the first scene, as The Duke's aria "Questa o quella" is done as a nightclupb number, in which he is supported by gorgeously costumed showgirls. The men are brightly costumed also, with brilliant satin and brocade dinner jackets (more 1970 than 1960, but we forgave it--). Only the Duke has a white jacket, and Rigoletto sports a Bishop-like cardigan in a red and yellow argyle pattern that speaks of a jester's motley.
After Monterone (played here as an Arab sheik) curses both the Duke and Rigoletto over the seduction of his daughter, Rigoletto is troubled and frets over the curse. It was a very nice touch that he sings of his disquiet not alone on stage as often done, but to a stone-faced Las Vegas bartender. This was a point at which we began to feel for Rigoletto, as he admits his spite towards his comrades is due to jealousy of their realtive youth and style. Lučić is a wonderful performer, one of the best we have heard in this role, and and can sing with warmth and sentiment not often heard in this character. Production details were very well done, such as the snifter full of matchbooks on the bar: the "torpedo" Sparafucile writes his name in one and leaves it with Rigoletto as business card.
Diana Damrau, as Gilda, Rigoletto's daughter, was also wonderful. She and Lučić have often done these roles together, and their voices and actions blended perfectly. Lučić's scenes with Gilda came accross with genuine tenderness. Again, staging was clever, as the duke's henchmen fool Rigoletto in the "ladder scene" by sending him up in a wrong elevator while they kidnap his supposed "girlfriend" (Gilda) via another one.
Stefan Kocan as Sparafucile was lean and menacing, and has a great bass voice to go with his handsome and sinister looks, and he's well supported by Oksana Volkova as his sister and partner in crime, Maddalena. (Yes, it appears that Italian opera has become the province of Slavs and Germans, at least in this production. They all, including Piotr Beczala, did a great job of it, so I don't think Verdi could have objected--.)
Sparafucile does his dirty work at a run-down strip joint nightclub. In the final scene, the neon background is made up of slanting blue tubes that ripple for the rain effects, and white tubes that flash and flicker for the lightning, giving us one of the most beautiful and creative storm scenes we have seen. Set designer Christine Jones, costume designer Susan Hilferty, and lighting designer Kevin Adams all deserve great praise for their work on this production.
Stage producer Michael Mayer, making his Met debut following Broadway successes, deserves great credit for his vision of the production and for letting the others follow their inspirations.
Orchestra conductor Michele Mariotti is one of the younger men we have seen conduct at the Met, (and looked a bit nervous on the HD) but did a fine job and I expect we will hear much more from him.
This was the most visually satisfying and beautifully sung Rigoletto we have seen in decades. Kudos all around!
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