Forget the Ridiculous Operatic Updates of Sellars and See How Jonathan Miller does it!
This is a great example of how opera plots set in a culture or historical time-frame too distant from the English speaking world of today can be updated for instant replay and sympathetic connection.
Of course it does very much beg the question of why Rigolleto should not be about the Yakusa and re-located to Tokyo, or why Zhang Yimou (the towering giant of Chinese cinema) should not set it in Shanghai between the last two World Wars (a kind of "Shanghaid Triad", one of his most accomplished achievements). But ALAS we live in a world where American Imperialism must have its way both in shaping the future of the globe politically, economically and even, culturally.
After all everyone has seen Hollywood gangster movies, and so will relate instantly to Jonathan Miller's re-telling of Verdi's re-telling of Victor Hugo's play, Le Roi s'Amuse - itself a socio-political critique.
Rigoletto, the court jester in the corrupt court of the Duke of Mantua, is now the comic hunchback barman for a NY gangster. Both John Rawnsley (Rigoletto) and Arthur Davies (Duke) give compelling performances, with Marie McLaughlin (Gilda) stealing the show as an inexperienced teenager in love with the wrong man. Jean Rigby (Maddalena) and John Tomlinson (Sparafucilie) are also very good.
The English translation is terrific.
Finally, a word about Jonathan Miller - his "adaptations" are so much more convincing than those of commonly regarded "Bad Boy of Opera" Peter Sellars. The latter is heavy handed and always wrings the juice out of a masterpiece to leave a mere cynical husk. Absolutely heartless
a bad artistic choice to mistake crude satire for real art. Miller on
the other hand makes opera relevant by re-inventing contexts which we can relate to, but without destroying the integrity of the original.
The productions by Sellars is the work of a narcissist who sees his own vision as being more important than the composer's, while Miller's work has wit, flair and contemporary relevance while paying homage where it is most due.
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