Monday, January 12, 2004

A Night At The Opera

Some days the drudgery of life is rewarded by hard work. Some days hard work is its own reward. Some days bring surprises unimaginable.

A few years ago, my boss had given me tickets to see Offenbach's Tales of Hoffman at the New York Metropolitan Opera. At that time she told me that Verdi's Rigoletto was her favorite opera and that she had never seen it. Imagine my surprise when, after a long work week, she invited me to see Rigoletto with her at the Met last Friday. Going to the opera is one of life's special treats for me.

My mother owned a copy of Bizet's Carmen on vinyl, and I heard it innumerable times while growing up. Sadly, Boston did not have an opera company that I knew of in the 1960s, and nobody ever took me to the opera. The first time I heard the presentation of any aria outside of our scratchy copy of Carmen was in seventh grade music class where we learned to sing "Toreador."

Opera was not popular in the projects. It wasn't unpopular, per se, it was just never mentioned. I don't know when I decided that opera was for rich people, but I always felt as though it was out of my league. There was no chance I would ever get dressed in formal attire and go to the opera. So, this weekend, I was trying to recall my cultural evolution from hearing Carmen, to believing that you had to be rich and wear a tuxedo, to actually being at the Met learning the lesson of staying awake for Act III while avoiding a nap in the second act.

Verdi's Rigoletto takes place in 16th Century Mantua, Italy. Rigoletto is the hump-backed jester in the court of the Duke of Mantua. The Duke is a vain, self-centered ingnoble man whose prime delight is the seduction of the local woman, young and old. A ball at the palace is filled with revelry, and the guests are entertained by Rigoletto's taunting of Count Ceprano, whose wife is the Duke's current conquest. Countess Ceprano is literally Duke's current conquest as they are in an adjoining room when the party is interrupted by the outburst Monterone, whose daughter has lost her honor when seduced by the Duke. When Rigoletto belittles Monterone he becomes the focus of a curse that had been planned for the Duke.

Rigoletto takes the curse quite seriously and after Monterone is dragged to jail, the courtesan turn their attention to gossip about the young woman living at Rigoletto's home. Rigoletto has kept secret that he has a daughter, Gilda, so the Duke's friends assume that the jester is keeping a young lover. To seek revenge against Rigoletto, whose unyielding taunts have plagued them all, they plot to kidnap Gilda and offer her to the Duke. Unknown to all, the Duke has been courting her while pretending to be a poor student, and she is in love with him.

The courtesan kidnap Gilda and bring her to the Duke. Rigoletto, believing that the loss of his daughter is part of Monterone's curse, plots to have the Duke assassinated. He arranges for her to dress as a man and make her way out of town, while the murder takes place. Instead, Gilda finds her way back to the Duke and is killed in his stead.

Juan Pons was perfect in the role of as Rigoletto, and Andrea Rost as Gilda the perfect complement. Both were technically proficient but sang with a passion that made you believe you could sing like that if you were in their shoes. Both earned the bravos and ovations they enjoyed.

Verdi premiered Rigoletto at theatre La fence, in Venice, on March 11, 1851.

My only apprehension about attending the opera with my boss last week was that I was dressed in khaki trousers, boots, and an Oxford shirt with no tie. I looked clean enough, but I would never choose to go to dinner and the opera dressed like this.

One of dynamics I find most intriguing at Lincoln Center is the attire. An evening at the Met might be the only place in the world where you can see a patron in a tuxedo sipping champagne next to a person in jeans and a t-shirt sipping champagne. And both are equally comfortable and happy that the other is there. So, my childhood observation about opera patrons was rather inaccurate. Opera patrons seem to come from all walks and styles of life. Anyone who wants to, can be a part of it!

I went to the opera dressed as I was and enjoyed myself immensely.

If you haven't been to the opera, go. If you haven't seen Rigoletto, do. Dress-up, dress-down, just go!