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The Met's New Rigoletto - Is It Ok To Tamper With An Opera ?

   The Metropolitan opera has premiered its eagerly awaited new production of Verdi's  grim but beloved masterpiece Rigoletto , and the reviews are mixed, as usual .  The controversy lies in the production , which has been much ballyhooed  since it was first announced last year . The opera is set in 16th century Mantua,Italy  in case you're not familiar with it (and you definitely should get to know it if not) , and  is the sordid and tragic tale of a handsome but  licentious Duke and his  bitter  and cynical  court Jester Rigoletto , who  is deathly afraid that  the Duke will seduce his innocent young daughter  , whom he keeps  under close watch  .  He hates the Duke, and hires a  16th century hitman to  assasinate him , but  the whole  thing goes horribly wrong , and  the poor girl is not only seduced  ,but the hitman  betrays him  ... well, I won't give the story away . 

    As is  so common today , the  director and designer of the new production  have updated the action to  around 1960 in -  Las Vegas !  The Duke is now a  popular Vegas singer, and Rigoletto is a comedian  who is part of his act .  In  the original setting , the court at Mantua is just as  corrupt, licentious and decadent as  Las Vegas ,  and there's plenty of intrigue and  lust .  The court at Mantua becomes a  gaudy Las Vegas casino .

    Anthony Tommasini , chief music critic of the New York  Times  , had some reservations about the staging , but liked it on the whole .  James Jorden   of the New York Post ,  thought it was  lame and unconvincing .  I'll reserve judgment until I see it  on  a PBS telecast .  But  the production does not appear to be nearly as outrageous  as many European stagings of operas  since about the 1980s ,  which  have been downright bizarre, even  grossly perverse , with all kinds of  gratuitous sexnudity , gratuitous violence  and absurdly arbitrary gimmicks  . 

    The acclaimed German coloratura soprano Diana Damrau, who sings Rigoletto's  beautiful but naive daughter Gilda in the Met production ,recently  starred n a Munich production of the opera  where the characters were dressed as gorillas and chimpnzees !   Last year's Bayreuth production  of Wagner's Lohengrin, which takes place in  medieval  Belgium  , has the chorus  dressed in  costumes which deliberately make them look like rats !   What on earth does this have to do with  the knights and soldiers of medieval Belgium ?  The production of Parsifal, Wagner's last opera, which takes place in  the north of medieval Spain in the realm of the   knights who guard  the Holy Grail ,  features  a prop  on stage which  is  the  decaying body of a rabbit !  Much larger than a real rabbit, of course .  But why ? 

    The famous American theater and opera director Peter Sellars has staged Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro", which takes place in an 18th century  Spanish  palace of a nobleman , in  New York's Trump tower , and the nobleman  is  a  blllionaire  tycoon !   Sellar's production of Mozart's "Don Giovanni" , which is set in 18th century Seville , is  set in  Spanish Harlem  among  pimps  and drug dealers !   Sheesh !

     Opera directors and designers have been vying with each other to create the most  outlandish  and perverse opera productions possiible . It's De Rigeur in Europe , and it seems that any  production team which  did a  traditional production set in the actual time and place of the opera would get booed off the stage today there, especially in Germany . 

    What is the point of all of this nonsense ?  It's known as  "Regietheater" in German , or  "director's theater " .  It also goes by the  name of "Eurotrash opera ".  In recent years,  there have also been  similar updated productions of  some of the Shakespeare plays ;  not too long ago, I saw a London production of Hamlet on PBS which  transferred the action of the opera to  what looked like the near future .  It didn't bother me too much , and  the  drama came through unscathed . 

    Fortunately, the Met  has  resisted the most  outrageous  staging  and visual gimmicks , and although critics might  justifiably have some reservations about  the productions ,  they have not been  ridiculous for the most part   .  The recent new production of Donoizetti's charming  bucolic  comic opera  "L'Elisir D'Amore (the elixir of love )  , which was telecast on  PBS just two weeks ago,is entirely traditional , and put  the opera in the original  early 19th century  setting  . Even the sets looked chamringly old-fashioned  , rather like something from the 1920s or 30s . 

    But several years ago,  the New York City opera, now  unfortunately struggling to  mainstain its existence ,  set the opera in  1960s America ,  and the characters were right out of  "Laverne and Shirley " on television .  The set evoked 60s  pop culture America . 

    Ultimately, what matters is whether the production works or not , or is  just a ridiculous collection of arbitrary gimmicks .  You have to take each production today on an indivisual basis . Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't .  You can get many of these  productions on DVD . Decide for yourself . 

Posted: Jan 30 2013, 11:38 PM by the horn | with no comments
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