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Metropolitan Opera Preview: Rigoletto

By Superconductor @ppelkonen
A new cast takes over the Met's "Vegas" production.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Rigoletto

Neon glitz and flash are at the empty heart of the Met's new Vegas Rigoletto.
Image © 2013 The Metropolitan Opera. 

(The following paragraph was originally published on Superconductor in the Jan. 14 revew "Trunk Music." Here's a link to the whole review.)
Michael Mayer's neon-fueled production of Rigoletto updates the action to the 1960s and uproots the whole sleazy "Mantuan" court to Las Vegas. The Duke is reimagined as a beloved "lounge lizard" entertainer at the center of his own Rat Pack. Rigoletto is his "Don Rickles", the comic who warms up the audience and fall guy. Gilda is...well, Gilda  locked in their hotel suite by her overprotective father who knows just how dangerous the street of Sin City are.
On opening night, this production received critical acclaim tempered by a loud chorus of boos in Act III. These were mostly directed at the set, which reimagined Sparafucile's sleazy tavern as a low-rent strip club complete with pole and a topless blonde. However, Mr. Mayer's setting of the drama is theatrically effective, with a car trunk as the planned method of body disposal and the tableau for the final tragedy.
This year's revival features stud baritone Dmitri Hvorovstovsky in the title role. The handsome Siberian singer is unlikely casting as Verdi's hunchbacked jester. Matthew Polenzani dons the dinner jacket as the Duke, and Aleksandra Kurzak is the beautiful, doomed Gilda. Pablo Heras-Casado conducts.
Rigoletto opens Nov. 11.
Rigoletto is the opera that cemented Verdi's reputation as a master of Italian opera, and the first of his "big three" with Il Trovatore and La Traviata immediately following. There are some great recordings in the catalog. Here's two:
Coro e Orchestra del La Scala cond. Rafael Kubelik (DG, 1961)
Rigoletto: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
The Duke: Carlo Bergonzi
Gilda: Renata Scotto
Kubelik conducts an intelligent reading of the score featuring Fischer-Dieskau as the hunchbacked jester. The German lieder specialist acquits himself well in Italian. Carlo Bergonzi is a fabulous, virile Duke, well matched with the young Renata Scotto.
Vienna Philharmonic cond. Carlo Maria Giulini (DG, 1980)
Rigoletto: Piero Cappuccili
The Duke: Placído Domingo
Gilda: Ileana Cotrubas
Giulini's methodical approach to the score is not loved by everybody, but the man conducted a fine Rigoletto. Domingo makes a rare foray into bad-guy territory here, reaching to the very top of his voice and virility.  The great Piero Cappuccilli is the thinking man's Rigoletto: equal parts monster and caring father in the title role.
Orchestra dell'Accademia di Santa Cecilia cond. Giuseppe Sinopoli (Philips/Decca, 1984)
Rigoletto: Renato Bruson
The Duke: Neil Shicoff
Gilda: Edita Gruberova
For some bizarre reason, the late Giuseppe Sinopoli eliminated the "extra" high notes that thrill lovers of Rigoletto. His version is a bizarre, Shakespearean drama through a cracked looking glass, but a powerful listening experience. Renato Bruson is a towering hunchback, well matched with the silvery Edita Gruberova.
Tickets for Rigoletto are available at MetOperaFamily.Org, by calling (212) 362-6000, or at the box office starting August 11.

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