Poor Renée. She worked so hard during the intermissions for the Metropolitan Opera's simulcast of Rigoletto trying to get the singers to comment on the production, but mostly they didn't really want to. They were happy to tell which member of the rat pack they were supposed to be, but that was about it.
Rat Pack:Rigoletto (Don Rickles): Željko Lučić (baritone)
Duke of Mantua (Frank Sinatra): Piotr Beczala (tenor)
Marullo (Dean Martin): Jeff Mattsey (baritone)
Count Ceprano (Sam Giancana): David Crawford (bass)
The rest of the cast:Gilda: Diana Damrau (soprano)
Maddalena: Oksana Volkova (contralto)
Sparafucile: Stefan Kocán (bass)
Monterone: Robert Pomakov (baritone)
Conductor: Michele Mariotti
Production: Michael Mayer
I guessed Don Rickles before Lučić said it. If you are unfamiliar with Mr. Rickles' work, here is a sample. I can actually see a certain similarity.
The best neon was in the last scene where it was used spectacularly to illustrate the sound of lightning flashes found in Verdi's score. I could see this in every Rigoletto. Amazing.
The man who issues the curse, Monterone, was costumed as an Arab. Your average American might shoot the Duke, but would not really think of cursing him. I wonder if this is a scandal.
Hidden in all this glitz was the regular Rigoletto we all know. Lučić and Diana Damrau, our Gilda, are part of the ensemble of the Frankfurt Opera and well acquainted. They have even played Rigoletto and Gilda together before and maintained their already highly developed conceptions. She commented that Gilda wasn't nearly so hard as Fille de Regiment, referring to the San Francisco production, I assume. She was carried off inside an Egyptian sarcophagus and died in the trunk of a car. She also skipped her high note at the end of "Caro nome."
The only character who seemed to really shine in this production, to take on the aura of his environment, was Piotr Beczala as the Duke. Above we see him looking very young in his disguise as a student. He seemed completely at home in his white dinner jacket and bow tie. He relaxed into the character and had a wonderful time.
I've never had any real complaints about Renée Fleming's interviews before, but I must say it was foolish for her to ask Piotr about his up coming high note in "La donna e mobile." He told her he tries not to think about it, but just asking the question jinxed it. He came very close to blowing it completely. So. Never ask a tenor if he is worrying about an up coming high note. You can ask him after if you want. Just never before. You'd think this was obvious. It's in a category with asking a horn player to do his solo standing on the stage.
This is a Rigoletto for an American audience. Many of the cultural references meant nothing to the international artists playing them. It worked fine for me. A father's love for his daughter transcends time and place. The rat pack image falls apart when you consider that it assumes that Frank Sinatra would ever have dared to fool around with Sam Giancana's wife.