Sunday, February 17, 2013

Met HD Rigoletto

You had to feel for Renee Fleming doing the intermission interviews for the Met Rigoletto  yesterday,  As in  --paraphrased--You've sung this opera before; how did the new 1960s Las Vegas set change your understanding of the opera?  --Oh, not a lot, Rigoletto is more or less timeless.  --Ah.  Well, how did working with this case enrich your appreciation of the part?  --Well, we are old friends and have sung it together before.

In short, happy, good-natured and a little bland.  Although the negative information is itself probably interesting: Rigoletto probably is an opera that survives changes of period and locale better than some others--seduction, betrayal and murder being, after all, among the constants of the man condition (leave it to the Germans, of course, to do it with apes).  Perhaps the two having most fun were Christine Jones and Susan Hilferty as set and costume designers--they are the ones that got to play around with the neon lights and those glistening faux-sharkskin tuxedo jackets.  Aside from those two, the most interesting thing I heard was the director Michael Mayer, fresh from the more conventional theatre, as he remarked on how invigorating it was to work with a cast who actually seemed to understand their roles: just as a guess, no mainstream opera star ever turns to the director and asks "what's my motivation here?"  (as Ronald Reagan is alleged to have done before a State of the Union message).

But good-natured and bland, you have to admit, sound like odd adjectives to apply to so murky a tale of vengeance.   Mrs. Buce (a special friend of Rigoletto) offers a telling insight--one important respect in which Verdian malediziione still trumps the Sinatran Las Vegas.  That is: take Don Rickles--the most point of comparison with the Verdian hunchback.  Rickles may have been a professional jerk, but you never doubted that he had his own bank account and that he might survive even if Frankie Boy cut him off.  But the Duke's jester--ah, aside from his keeper, he's got nothing.  I think she's right: since he is not hanging by a thread over the abyss, the Sinatran version loses an indispensable note of desperate  insecurity.

Footnote: I'd say the use of a n Arab guy in Arab headdress was a stretch that didn't get across.   I think I see the point:  Mayer wanted somebody menacing and exotic to deliver the curse.  But as staged, he just wound up looking a little silly,.  Besides, at the risk of indulging in chronological fussiness, this is the 1960s we are talking about: my guess would have been that the Arabs didn't show up in force until after OPEC quadrupled the barrel price of oil, i.e., 1973.

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