Mayer's 'Rigoletto,' set in Vegas, opens at Met
In this Friday, Jan. 25 2013 photo, Zeljko Lucic, left, performs the title roll alongside Stefan Kocan performing as Sparafucile during the final dress rehearsal of Giuseppe Verdi's Rigoletto at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
NEW YORK (AP) — For all the bright lights and razzle-dazzle of the Las Vegas locale, the most illuminating stretches in Michael Mayer's showy new production of "Rigoletto" at the Metropolitan Opera occurred when the three commanding singers were left alone at the front of the stage and the splashy scenery receded into the background.
The opening-act fan dancers were distracting and the third-act topless stripper/hooker was gratuitous. Countess Ceprano resembled Marilyn Monroe and the Count of Monterone was an Arab sheik. Gilda was carried off in a sarcophagus when she was kidnapped, then died in the trunk of a Cadillac Coupe Deville.
Clearly this wasn't the "Rigoletto" that played at the Met 841 previous times over 129 years.
Overall, Mayer's transfer of Verdi's first great middle-period opera from 16th-century Mantua to a 1960 hotel and casino on the Strip resulted in straightforward storytelling. The gamble with regietheater was largely successful, an entertaining, bold rendition that some will conclude lacks new insight and others will find frenetic and fun. The notoriously conservative Met audience mostly cheered the Tony-winning director following Monday night's production premiere, with only a few boos scattered in.
In this Friday, Jan. 25 2013 photo, Piotr Beczala performs as The Duke during the final dress rehearsal of Giuseppe Verdi's Rigoletto at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
In her first performance since giving birth to her second child in October, Diana Damrau gave a searing, loving portrayal of Gilda, a total melding of her silvery soprano with the persona of a vulnerable, confused young girl, unsure how to deal with her overprotective father and sexual awakening amid the bawdy decadence of Sin City.
Zeljko Lucic let loose a fierce and pained baritone as Rigoletto, combining with Damrau for an unforgettable second-act duet filled with emotion, inflection and even tears. Piotr Beczala as the Duke was a breezy, sleazy leader of the Rat Pack, a Frank Sinatra-type lurching from bender to hookup. His arias were winning and convincing, his tenor perhaps underpowered by the slightest tad.
Even before opening night, there was sharp disagreement among aficionados over Mayer's switch from the Renaissance Palazzo Ducale to a casino floor filled with slot machines, gambling tables and faux neon. The photos and videos posted on the Met's Facebook page inflamed factions pro and con that contemptuously regard each other as Luddites and Jacobins.