MOT's 'Rigoletto' opens May 14
Today in history, Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto premiered in Venice, Italy in 1851. Based on a story by Victor Hugo, Rigoletto is a darkly tragic, gut-wrenching opera that ends in a senseless death. But at least for one performance at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden circa 1948, Rigoletto turned into a bit of a comedy:
English tenor Walter Midgley was playing the Duke. During the aria “Questa o quella,” a lively, upbeat piece, Midgley caught the end of his fake mustache in his mouth and gradually sucked in the entire thing, which eventually lodged itself in his windpipe. If losing his fake mustache wasn’t enough of distraction, at the end of the aria, Midgley managed to blow it out across the stage, into the orchestra pit, and right into the conductor’s face.
According to Bachtrack, the world’s best way to find live classical music, Rigoletto was one of the ten most performing operas in the world in 2009-10, and two North American houses are presenting Rigoletto this season: the Met and the Mot (Michigan Opera Theatre.) There might be more, but those were the only two listed on that site.
In celebration of Rigoletto’s 160th anniversary, here is “Questa o quella,” sans any extra slapstick comedy, from one of my favorite productions last season, Rigoletto a Mantova, as sung by the ever-appealing Italian tenor (and heartthrob, per me) Vittorio Grigolo.