Review Roundup: RIGOLETTO at The Met Opera

Review Roundup: RIGOLETTO at The Met Opera

Verdi's tragic jester returns in Michael Mayer's neon-bedecked, Las Vegas-themed production. Baritones Roberto Frontali and George Gagnidze share the title role, and soprano Nadine Sierra reprises her portrayal of Gilda, the role that helped launch her now-blossoming Met career. Tenors Vittorio Grigolo and Bryan Hymel share the role of the lascivious Duke, and Nicola Luisotti conducts.

World premiere: Teatro la Fenice, Venice, 1851. Met premiere: November 16, 1883. A dramatic journey of undeniable force, Rigoletto was immensely popular from its premiere and remains fresh and powerful to this day. The story, based on a controversial play by Victor Hugo, tells of an outsider-a hunchbacked jester-who struggles to balance the dueling elements of beauty and evil that exist in his life. Written during the most fertile period of Verdi's artistic life, the opera resonates with a universality that is frequently called Shakespearean.

In a remarkable career spanning six decades in the theater, Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) composed 28 operas, at least half of which are at the core of today's repertoire. His role in Italy's cultural and political development has made him an icon in his native country. Francesco Maria Piave (1810-1876), Verdi's librettist for Rigoletto, collaborated with him on ten works, including Ernani, La Traviata, La Forza del Destino, and the original versions of Macbeth and Simon Boccanegra.

Victor Hugo's 1832 play Le Roi s'Amuse, set at the court of King François I of France (circa 1520), is a blatant depiction of depraved authority. In adapting it, Verdi and Piave fought with the Italian censors and eventually settled on moving the story to the non-royal Renaissance court of Mantua, while holding firm on the core issues of the drama. In Michael Mayer's Met production, the action unfolds in Las Vegas in 1960, a time and place with surprising parallels to the decadent world of the original setting.

Rigoletto contains a wealth of melody, including one that is among the world's most famous: "La donna è mobile." All the opera's solos are rich with character insight and dramatic development. The famous Act III quartet, "Bella figlia dell'amore," is an ingenious musical analysis of the diverging reactions of the four principals in the same moment: the Duke's music rises with urgency and impatience, Gilda's droops with disappointment, Rigoletto's remains measured and paternal, while the promiscuous Maddalena is literally all over the place. In the context of the opera, the merely lovely music becomes inspired drama.

Let's see what the critics have to say!

Anthony Tommasini, NY Times: The first sign that things were not going well at Tuesday's performance of Verdi's "Rigoletto" at the Metropolitan Opera was the surprisingly effortful singing of Vittorio Grigolo. Right off the bat, bounding onto the stage in a white tuxedo - the Met's production is updated to 1960s Las Vegas - Mr. Grigolo looked the part of the womanizing Duke of Mantua.

Eric C. Simpson, New York Classical: It was an up-and down night for Nicola Luisotti in the pit: some raggedness in the orchestra early on cleared up and their sound thereafter was bright. Yet he made a number of odd tempo choices, such as that hell-for-leather "Cortigiani" mentioned above, and compensated for them with extra dynamic punctuation. The men of the Met chorus, at least, were luminous throughout Tuesday's performance.

Logan Martell, Opera Wire: On the technical side of things, the ever-present neon lights did not add much to the performance overall, though they did have two notable moments. The first came at the end of the stretta in scene one, where the lights begin flashing rapidly as if fueled by the energy of the court, their lives being the public spectacle which keeps the game of debauchery going. The second was the use of wide neon light to run a flickering current, in sync with the flute, and give the impression of lightning for act three's storm.

Richard Sasanow, BroadwayWorld: One can't talk about this production without mentioning the stage design by Christine Jones, which projects all the gaudiness that the production concept calls for. I love her use of neon in the last act, reflecting the approaching storm in perfect harmony, with Kevin Adams' lighting design. Susan Hilferty's garish costumes also hit the right note, but also give Rigoletto the fatherly cardigan that helps him play up that side of the character.

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