This Saturday at Grass Valley’s Del Oro Theatre, Sierra Theaters in partnership with Music in the Mountians presents Giuseppe Verdi’s “Rigoletto” as the latest offering of The Met Opera Live in HD.
The big screen at the Del Oro plays host to one of the darker and more tragic tales in an art form replete with dark and tragic tales. Verdi’s early masterpiece was meant to be entitled “La Maledizione” (“The Curse”), but this made Verdi’s Austrian censors uneasy. A curse drives the plot, a father’s curse against his daughter’s seducer, the vile, lascivious Duke of Mantua. Caught in the web of malediction is the mocking, cynical court jester Rigoletto. Like a dragon with his golden horde, Rigoletto, secretly a father, carefully guarding the hidden treasure that is his daughter, Gilda, shrinks in superstitious terror from the aggrieved father’s condemnation. The censors, without whose approval a production could not be made, also objected to Rigoletto’s deformity. Verdi wrote to his librettist Francesco Piave: “I note they have avoided making [Rigoletto] ugly and hunchbacked! A hunchback who sings? Why not? … Will it be effective? I don’t know. But if I don’t know, then neither does the person who suggested this change. I find it very beautiful to portray this character, extremely deformed and ridiculous, yet within full of passion and of love.”
Based on Victor Hugo’s play “Le Roi s’amuse,” Verdi creates soundscapes for each character that capture their essence and not without irony. The villain, the handsome, devil-may-care Duke of Mantua, gets the pretty melodies, including the overly familiar “La donna e mobile.” Rigoletto’s sonic cloak is woven with darker hues. Unlike the Renaissance-era persona of the title character, the Duke strikes one as modern, contemporary. His blithe enactment of a perverse droit du seigneur leaves bodies in its wake. As with many such “players,” he remains blissfully ignorant of the havoc he wreaks.
“Rigoletto” deserves its permanent place among the great works; it is a work full of melody, plot twists and turns and, ultimately, heartbreak. Of course, heartbreak. It is the way of things that through his own actions the malevolent jester Rigoletto brings the curse down upon himself and suffers the worst of all possible fates, as attendees will see. Moments worth waiting for include the signature aria “Caro nome” and the extraordinary Act III quartet with Maddalena, the Duke, Gilda and Rigoletto. Ravishing music, among the master’s finest. If you are afraid of opera or imagine that it’s just stuffy or that you won’t like it, “Rigoletto” provides an excellent, accessible entry into the world of high musical drama.
John Deaderick is a local theatre instructor, director, actor, and the author of Make Sweet the Minds of Men: Early Opera and Tragic Catharsis, available at Amazon.com.