Monday, February 4, 2013

A Las Vegas "Rigoletto"

Now this sounds totally bizarre. From the New York Times:
Of course, for Mr. Mayer, shifting the story to Las Vegas in the 1960s was no doubt the easy part. There are big holes in his concept, starting with the rather important character of Rigoletto, Verdi’s hunchbacked, pitiable and tormented court jester, sung here by the admirable Serbian baritone Zeljko Lucic

Just who is this Las Vegas Rigoletto? Mr. Lucic first appears milling through the crowd at the casino, wearing a loud sweater. But what is his job? His role in the world of the Duke and the casino? We are never sure.
Mr. Miller made Rigoletto a bartender, a poignant idea. A lowly bartender in Little Italy, the butt of constant jokes, who must also keep the Duke and his mobsters amused, is an apt modern-day equivalent to a 16th-century jester. In an interview with The New York Times, Mr. Mayer said that he had modeled Rigoletto on aggressive comics, like Don Rickles, who could crack up Sinatra. 

But the vagueness of the concept undermines Mr. Lucic’s otherwise affecting performance. He is an unconventional but compelling Verdian who does not have the classic mellow, Italianate baritone sound. Still, his voice is big and penetrating, focused and true. There is a smoky quality to his tone, with a slightly nasal texture that lends humanity to his singing. And his phrasing is supple and elegant. 

At the end of the first scene in the opera as written, Monterone arrives at the court to denounce the Duke for having seduced his daughter. Mr. Mayer then makes a move that comes across as glib and potentially offensive. In another interview he said that he was worried that a curse, serious business in 16th-century Italy, might seem silly today. So he has turned Monterone into an Arab sheik. 

But, as conceived by Verdi, Monterone is a count, lower than a duke but still an aristocrat. Making Monterone an exotic Arab marginalizes him. When the bass Robert Pomakov, who sang the role, appeared in his sheik’s grab, many in the audience laughed out loud. So much for lending new terror to the operatic curse. (Read entire article.)

1 comment:

Titus said...

This is why I am thankful for the Matinee broadcasts (and yet reminiscent of why I nevertheless hurl invectives at the radio every time I hear Margaret Juntwait's voice; we will not speak of the androgynous creature who pollutes the between-act air time in which Juntwait herself is not droning): I don't have to see the idiocy over the radio.

But it's the leading pathology of the contemporary opera company. The producers cannot accept the art on its own terms. First, they do not respect or understand the artistic and cultural context of the pieces. The premises of entire works (see, e.g., Faust) have been relegated to silliness in the eyes of the modern viewer. Second, they cannot swallow their own hubris enough to work within the story as it's actually been presented.

I am told that the Met crowd actually booed one of these hacks off the stage a few years ago after a particularly disastrous (but delightful over the radio!) production of La Sonambula. I do wish they would pack all of their updating, and the present radio crew, and Peter Gelb, and simply go elsewhere. Milton Cross's tombstone in the broadcast booth and a threadbare set would be an improvement over the current mess.