(Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera)
On Thursday night, the Metropolitan Opera put on its 873rd performance of Verdi’s Rigoletto. A company favorite, this production, by Michael Mayer, was of an updated version of the original 1851 opera. This opera is set in Las Vegas in 1960, and it is the third year that the Met is performing it. As someone who is a purist, I approached Thursday night’s version with some trepidation. But this production was excellently adapted to a more modern setting, with strobe lights, glitzy sets, and great costumes.
The story revolves around a curse put on the lead character, Rigoletto, whose innocent daughter Gilda has fallen in love with a Duke. In a series of mistaken identities, Gilda is kidnapped by the Duke’s entourage and taken to his apartment. The Duke takes advantage of Gilda, after which Gilda confesses to Rigoletto what happened and her love for the Duke. The Duke, however, has moved on, which becomes apparent when Gilda and Rigoletto watch him flirt with another woman. Rigoletto sends Gilda off in disguise as a man while he plots to have the Duke killed. Gilda decides to sacrifice herself for the Duke and, dressed like a man, is murdered by Rigoletto’s hitman, Sparafucile. As Gilda lay dying, she asks for her father’s forgiveness. After her death, Rigoletto realizes the curse that was put upon him has been fulfilled.
The singing was generally very good, although the Duke and the Orchestra took a bit of time to warm up. Once he finished his first aria and got on track, Piotr Beczala performed admirably as the Duke, and his chemistry was good with Gilda, the soprano Olga Peretyatko. The tenor’s voice is perfect for the role of the Duke, strong and confident, without being overpowering. Peretyatko has a beautiful voice, but gave an up and down performance on this night, as she hit some of the high notes well, but was uneven through most of the opera.
Zeljko Lucic did well in the title role of Rigoletto, taking just the right approach to his unfolding tragedy, but the most impressive performance was by bass Stefan Kocan, as the hired killer, Sparafucile. Menacing, full throated, with an audience pleasing hold of his final note in the first act, Kocan was one of the highlights of the evening.
Overall, this was a fun performance of an updated opera on a rainy, dreary night in New York. It was the perfect weather for a tragic story, updated or not. Maybe this version of Rigoletto is not appropriate for introducing young children to opera, but if you have teenagers, they will enjoy it, as will the adults who accompany them. It is the shortest three hours I have spent in Lincoln Center in a long time.
Performances of Rigoletto run through December 17, 2015.