Archive for November, 2011

Rigoletto, or what Verdi and Marx have in common

November 28, 2011

To all those who care to read these impressions I owe an apology. Although I saw Rigoletto on October 2, 2011, demands of my own quotidian delayed the final touches on Rigoletto. Then, as I thought it was ready for upload, I had an encounter in the elevator with one of my neighbours whom I, from time to time, see at the opera. The following dialogue ensued.

OT: “Did you see Rigoletto?”

Neighbour: “Yes. A disaster.”

OT: “Oh, I actually liked it. What was that you did not like?”

Neighbour: “I mean the singing was good, but the staging…it was awful.

OT: “Hmh, actually, I found the staging most interesting. I was delighted.

Neighbour: “ Well, how many Rigolettos did you see?”

Before I got to count my former Rigolettos, which I reckon amount to probably two, one, or none, (I do not count audio recordings, fragments and arias)  the neighbour exited the elevator.

This Rigoletto is one of the most successful productions I have ever seen at the COC. It was originally staged for Chicago Lyric Opera in 2000.

Sometimes when I see a memorable production of an opera, the associative part of my brain starts shooting out random proverbial one-liners accumulated in my memory over, I do not want to say how many, decades of my current incarnation. 

When I left the opera house after Rigoletto, I jotted down three apparently disparate statements that came to mind. Here we go:  “When frog saw that horses get shoes she lift her foot too”, “Quod licet Iovi non licet bovi” and the third, one more contemporary and slightly more complex was, if I recall well, one of Marx’s thesis on Feuerbach. The sixth, I think. Translated from my mother tongue, as I recall, the lecture some four decades ago goes like this: “It is not the consciousness that determines the social being of the individuals, but rather, it is their social being that determines their consciousness. Perhaps in light of this association it is interesting to examine this Rigoletto.


The opening scene resembles a club lounge, one dimly lit and furnished in the style of P.G. Wodehouse’s famous Drones Club. Gathered are members of the nobility preoccupied with finding new forms of entertainment. Rigoletto is a jester, a private comedian whose livelihood is all about amusing an audience not always prepared for taking in a gentlemanly way a rough joke. So it happens that in ridiculing a nobleman inferior in rank to his boss, Rigoletto went too far for the taste of the receiving end. Rigoletto is cursed. An elaborate and cunning revenge was set in motion. The insulted marquis plotted to lure Rigoletto’s daughter into a love affair under the false pretense that he is a poor student. Rigoletto in a way expected that his daughter might be at risk and provided his maid with strict instructions to spare his daughter from the wrathful man. Rigoletto is outsmarted by the sophistication of a nobleman’s con game and by his gross oversight of what a small bribe could achieve with a low servant.

On the scale of consciousness we have a duke, his guests, Rigoletto, Rigoletto’s servant maid and Rigoletto’s daughter. In this “vanity fair”, the master of the revels  is of course the duke. As the social status goes down the ability to see through the thick screen of appearances diminishes proportionally. Rigoletto is in the middle of this spectrum as someone who, by seeing it all from the inside, should know better. In his social being Rigoletto is in like proportion a master and a servant, but does not quite belong to either end of the spectrum. Yet, he cannot assess either of his social roles. He is also stigmatized by physical deformity. In terms of the political correctness of his time he is not quite a valid human being. As master of his maid and a father he can only simulate superiority. He cannot overcome the fact that he is a servant, no matter how close a view he has of the lives of his masters. It is from the perspective of his social being that his narrow consciousness sets him on the devastating path in which a murder is seen as a just solution. The part of him which identifies with a master takes the charge and he arranges a hitman for a revenge killing. But all is in vain for a man who has lost his path in life and is selling his own soul for a livelihood. Everyone is corrupt, even the assassin. So instead of the duke he kills the first random person to come along , who just happens to be Rigoletto’s daughter. Rigoletto, carried away in savouring his revenge, wants to be the one who will dispose of the body of the duke. But when he hears the voice of the duke from a distance, he opens the sack he is carrying and in horror sees his dying daughter.


The consciousness determined by the social being came across as a strong flavour, brought to life in a masterful staging of this libretto. Humiliation of the outcast, cannot be dissolved if love and compassion are in short supply. With a lack of love and compassion one cannot overcome the limitations imposed by one’s social being without resorting to violence. And violence does not lead anywhere but to more violence. The singing and orchestra rendered smoothly. This is a production worth of visual recording and should be a mandatory field trip for those who aspire to advanced studies of public relations and management of human resources.

And now, dear readers, allow me to finish with another apology, this time to the wonderful team who performed Rigoletto this season at the Canadian Opera Company, Toronto.

And the credits go to:  David Lomeli (The Duke of Mantua), John Kriter (Borsa), Mireille Asselin (Cauntess Ceprano), Quinn Kelsey (Rigoletto), Adrian Kramer (Marullo), Alain Coulombe (Count Ceprano), Robert Pomakov (Count Monterone), Philip Ens (Sparafucile), Ekaterina Sadovnikova (Gilda), Megan Latham (Giovanna), Jacqueline Woodley (a page), Neil Craighead (an usher), Kendal Gladen (Maddalena), Conductor: Johanes Debus, Director: Christopher Alden, Set and Costume Designer: Michele Levine, Lighting designer: Duane Schuler.