Sunday, February 24, 2013

A Sexy Opera

I thought I would never say such a thing, but this week we saw a simulcast of a new production of Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi at the Metropolitan Opera that was sexy.

Simulcasts have become quite normal in the past few years and they allow millions to see the productions not just listen on the radio.  People around the world now see and hear New York’s famous opera productions.

Many operas around the world stick far more to the traditional productions of opera presenting what their public expects the opera to be like.  The Metropolitan, however, has pushed the envelope with the mission of introducing opera not only to an international audience but even more importantly to a younger one.

In order to appeal to broader and younger audiences directors try to find a hook and new gimmick if you will.  We were worried when we heard that the concept for this production, Michael Mayer, decided to place the opera in the Las Vegas of the 1960’s and the ”Rat Pack” which was lead by Frank Sinatra, his entourage included Dean Martin, Peter Lawford  and Sammy Davis, Jr.  The clown in the group was Joey Bishop and Michael Mayer based the character of Rigoletto on him, and here Rigoletto is clown to The Duke, the whole concept worked absolutely perfectly.


Peter Gelb, general director of the Met and the person who conceived of the simulcasts, said that Mayer could only do this if the libretto fit perfectly into his scenario and it did.

As the production began I wondered if the performers had ever thought what they were signing up for when they had decided that they wished to be opera singers.  What amazed me was the acting ability of all the principles and the chorus as well.  Penelope and I were thinking back to other performances we had seen when we were young with the likes of the fabulous Joan Sutherland, who when she sang, looked straight out at the audience and belted it out like Ethel Merman.

In this production there are sexy girls in various stages of “d├ęshabille” and in one scene a pole that is center stage is used to full advantage to show off their assets.  The action is also well choreographed and the tension is built, though we know the story.

Have I mentioned the voices?  Those were mind blowing: not that the stars sang well, we have come to expect that at the Met, but the entire cast did.  There are always ones that stand out and Gilda sung by Diana Damrau with her excellent coloratura certainly was a treat.  As Rigoletto, Zeljko Lucic not only sang well but he was a wonderful actor  playing the bitter buffoon to The Duke sung by Piotr Beczala.  What a superb lothario Beczala made!

It helped that Zeljko Lucic and Diana Damrau have sung together often and they even started out together in the Frankfurt Opera company.  We learned this in the long intermissions during which the famous soprano, Renee Fleming, did interviews with the cast and other contributors to the production.  We also learned, what we did not need to be told, that the members of the Duke’s court were allowed to develop their roles and create characters that we could remember afterwards.

A Met spokesperson has said of the simulcasts, “It is the next best audio experience to being in the opera house itself.”  While that cannot be denied in some respects it has its advantages.  It enhances weaker voices and the video brings the characters up close and personal!

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