BWW Reviews: Metropolitan Opera's Vegas-Set RIGOLETTO Finishes 'In the Money'
Full disclosure: I'm not fond of updating operas. Most of them simply don't work, because the directors appear to have a disdain for the art form or, at least, for the particular opera they're staging. They assume that trashing "Un Ballo in Maschera," "Don Giovanni" or "La Sonnambula" is the only way to get anyone under 50 into an opera house. On the other hand, Michael Mayer, the Broadway director best known for his work on the musical "Spring Awakening," seems to actually like opera and is making his splendid Metropolitan Opera debut with the bold and brassy new production of Verdi's RIGOLETTO, which opened on January 28.
Mayer's work makes a strong impression and his case for placing RIGOLETTO in 1960's Las Vegas, home of Sinatra's Rat Pack, as a modern equivalent of the corrupt Mantua of the 16th century is at least plausible. The strong contributions of Christine Jones's amusingly over-the-top sets, lighting by Kevin Adams and Susan Hilferty's costumes ranging from simple (Gilda) to authentically tacky (the entourage) help bring Mayer's concept brilliantly to life.
In Act I, for example, the backdrop of the casino emulates the Vegas Strip of the period wonderfully through a collage of neon signs and the entourage of the Duke (here, a Vegas headliner) is shown drunk and passed out in his garish penthouse in Act II. Perhaps the most fun is Act III's sleazy roadhouse owned by hitman Sparafucile and his sister Maddalena, which comes complete with a topless pole-dancer. (The choreography was by Steven Hoggett.) The backdrop has a neon sculpture that mimics the lightning of Verdi's music and outside is a big-finned Cadillac whose trunk is used for the disposal of Gilda's body. (Note: I don't know who's responsible for the new translation that appears on the Met's surtitles for this production, but it supports the stage concept wittily and well.)