|George Gagnidze as Rigoletto|
Giuseppe Verdi’s tragic opera about a debauched duke, his deformed jester, and the hunchback’s beautiful daughter, based on a Victor Hugo play, was first performed in Venice in 1851.
Michael Mayer’s energetic production at the Met (now in performance for the third time) transports the action from sixteenth-century Mantua to 1960s Las Vegas. Expect neon lights, a casino, and a seedy strip club, with the duke (Stephen Costello) a flamboyant playboy, who, in the first act, is set upon by an Arab tycoon (Stefan Szkafarowsky) for seducing his daughter.
|Olga Peretyatko and Stephen Costello|
The sixties is a clever choice of time period. It is an opportunity for colourful set (Christine Jones) and costume (Susan Hilferty) design, but also, strangely, makes sense. The tension between a highly sexed, drunken lifestyle and the more conservative morality Gilda (Olga Peretyatko) represents rings true, as does the physical threat of violence from Stefan Kocan’s mobster-style assassin.
George Gagnidze is Rigoletto himself, bringing gravitas to a production that leans to the humorous, especially due to the loose and amusing translation of the English subtitles. He is particularly touching in his scenes with his daughter, before and after her deflowering, but also does a good job in scenes with the Duke’s entourage, holding our attention throughout the flashing lights and dramatic dance sequences.
It’s the Duke’s ‘La donna è mobile’ that the audience leaves humming (of course!) but, in the final act, there’s a real pathos in the juxtaposition between Costello’s lighthearted singing and the moment of tragedy – as Gilda’s body is revealed (inside the trunk of a car here, not a sack).
I was entertained throughout, with the three hour running time flying by. There are performances until 17th December, so if you’re in the city (and even if you’re a newbie to opera), go!