Director Michael Mayer evokes 1960s Las Vegas in a gritty depiction of Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto at The Metropolitan Opera.
Conductor Pablo Heras-Casado is dynamic, leading strings through skipping melodies, forceful duets, and memorable arias. Olga Peretyatko delivers a stellar performance as Gilda. The soprano brings a light, breezy feeling to every trill and run in the phrase. The bounce in her step is nothing short of exuberant. As the hunchback clown, Rigoletto, George Gagnidze is charismatic, striking the right balance between sad and strong.
Drawing upon the libretto by Francisco Maria Piave, based on Victor Hugo’s 1832 play, Le Roi s’amuse, the opera doesn’t disappoint. Keeping everyone moving along at a swift tempo, Heras-Casado (who made his Met debut conducting Rigoletto in 2013) does not eclipse interpretation from the singers. “La Donna è Mobile” is robust. “Tutto è Festa” is full of sorrow.
It could be the abundance of French blue tones in the set, but the opera occasionally feels a little like Les Misérables. Broadway director Michael Mayer (Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Spring Awakening, Thoroughly Modern Millie) doesn’t allow moments for relief. A foreboding feeling lasts through the production, even with the Vegas showgirls and big feathers. The large men’s chorus is packed on the stage in front of a sickly, nuclear green set, exposing a rough underbelly where a bleaker world exists.
Choreographer Steven Hoggett keeps gestures smooth, finding possibility in static and flowing energy. While some productions rely on strict commedia dell’arte (celebrated near Teatro la Fenice in Venice where the opera had its premiere in 1851), this Rigoletto finds a crueler world where a hit command is as typical as bad day at the slots. Štefan Kocán is absolutely sinister as Sparafucile, a man who kills more than any comedian. Maddalena (Katarina Leoson) dressed in shocking orange, appears absolutely conspiratorial under extraordinarily large, glowing beads. She is the perfect counter to the courageous, but youthful, Gilda.
Originality is in the blues, greens, and flashing white lights that pulse across the stage, provided by lighting designer Kevin Adams. The set designer, Christine Jones, reimagines classic scenes with surprises, including the third act quartet, “Bella figlia dell’amore,” complete with plush couches and a stripper pole. Costume designer Susan Hilferty rounds out the world with slick suits and ball gowns, fitting in the era of Marilyn Monroe.
Rigoletto, which had its first Met performances in the company’s inaugural 1883-84 season, provides so much contrast. Though we can’t help following the sweet manner of Gilda, the harsh feeling of consequence could be the opera’s greatest strength. The last moment of the play features Rigoletto finding Gilda in the trunk of an onstage car after being stabbed. Gilda’s aria brings a wistful end to the opera. Rigoletto, completely distraught, reveals the horrors of the “Maledizione” or curse. Far from heartless, this vindictive world leaves the audience spellbound.
Performances of Rigoletto continue through December 17. For more information and tickets visit: https://www.metopera.org/