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DIRECTOR: Michael Mayer
CONDUCTOR: Michele Mariotti
CAST: Zeljko Lucic, Piotr Beczala, Diana Damrau, Stefan Kocán, Oksana Volkova
RUNNING TIME: 213 minutes
Peter Gelb, both the artistic and executive director of New York’s Metropolitan Opera, has recently come under fire from the more conservative opera lobbies for allowing too risqué artistic liberties from his production teams. This is especially aimed at directors’ involvement in completely new productions of older stalwarts like Verdi’s Rigoletto, by far the composer’s most timeless drama.
In some of the correspondence one can read in the media, there is an outcry against Michael Mayer, an iconic Broadway and film producer and director, for placing this Rigoletto in Las Vegas in the early 1960s, with the Rat Pack in attendance. The conservatives see this as a sacrilegious act, while a younger generation generally believe that change is necessary to keep their interest in opera alive.
Over the years some unconventional productions have appeared on DVD, like the one by the Royal Opera House directed by David McVicar or Opera Spanga’s super realistic contemporary setting with Corina van Eijk holding the strings.
Mayer’s current Met production is relatively tame in comparison. The Duke, acted with disarming naturalness and sung with vitality and resonance by Piotr Beczala, is a kind of Frank Sinatra clone who does things his way. The opening is set in an over- the-top representation of a Las Vegas casino: neon-lit, with chorus girls sporting huge, coloured ostrich feather fans dancing around the Duke while he sings Questa o quella.
Christine Jones (sets) and Susan Hilferty (costumes) have gone all out to recreate the specific visual decadence and extravagance of the era, while Mayer just had to adapt the sung texts to fit the chosen time frame. An example: “My sights are set on a swingin’ girl, so hop on, baby, let’s take that whirl!” How does this sound to you?
What really matters at the end of the day, is the question: “Can this Rigoletto stand its ground musically?”
On this level one can, surprisingly, be very positive. As Gilda, who falls victim to the Duke’s charms, Diana Damrau is touchingly pure in tone and exceptional, both vocally and dramatically. Zeljko Lucic who sings the role of her father, Rigoletto, is vocally thoroughly at home in this role, but also, in every prime dramatic moment, like in his vengeance, masterly in his characterisation.
Stefan Kocán, a burly bass, is quite amazing for his slickly interpretation of the killer Sparafucile, while Oksana Volkova’s well focused mezzo-soprano voice lends strong support as his lady of the night sister.
Local Met-stalwarts who have followed their HD film releases with great enthusiasm over the past five years, must realise that this Rigoletto is by far the most controversial filmed production in its history. It’s aiming at realism, not authenticity, but it does so mostly with brilliant success.
The Met Orchestra is not always in top form under the leadership of the young Italian conductor Michele Mariotti, but he did not for a moment influence the singers negatively. This is a very consistent cast. The Met Chorus, as always, is in top form.
• Screening at all Cinema Nouveau and selected Ster-Kinekor theatres.