Essay: Opera Rigoletto

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Opera

Of all the ways I have thus far encountered Rigoletto, my favorite has been Jean-Pierre Ponnelle's film version. There were certainly elements of his Rigoletto that I appreciated, not least of which was the opportunity to see Luciano Pavarotti play the Duke. Moreover, I appreciated some of the grotesque dimension that the director added to the original Verdi version. However, I got even more out of the new and more unabashed adaptation of Rigoletto currently staged on Broadway. The new Rigoletto adds a comic dimension to the original by blending Rat Pack references with the original drama. There are points to the production that are frankly annoying, which was my instinctual reaction to the Vegas dancers. Yet gradually as the show progressed, I started to "get it." Director Michael Mayer reinterpreted Verdi's opera for an audience already familiar with the original. Mayer relies on the archetypes, of the licentious womanizing Duke, the lovestruck lady, and the concerned jocular father. These archetypes are what make Rigoletto compelling as a story in the first place; while the music is what keeps me coming back again and again.

After encountering the opera in a purely audio format, I was prepared for the emotional nuances in the tragedy. Turning the tragedy into a farce, as in the case of the Mayer production, had an interesting impact on the audience. Some loved it, and cheered wildly because something in the whimsical production touched them. It might have been because of the level of familiarity embedded in a Vegas-style production, coupled with modern-day references that rescue the opera from being tied down to its historical epoch, costumes and all. Perhaps the audience on the cheering side are more interested in how directors like Mayer take liberties with classics like Rigoletto, and which elements they choose to remain faithful to; in this case surprisingly little. As unfamiliar as… [END OF PREVIEW]

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