With no school, Saturdays are always great days. But this Saturday was a GREAT Saturday. As I am leaving the Metropolitan Opera Children’s Chorus, I now have Saturday afternoons free. I have rarely been able to go to Saturday matinées at the opera house for the last seven years, but now I can. That is one positive of leaving the children’s chorus!
My father and I attended the Saturday matinée of Verdi’s Rigoletto today at the Met. Many other millions of viewers watched the same performance in more than 60 countries around the world. The performance of Rigoletto was Live in HD in movie theaters all over the world, so opera fans young and old could attend. I enjoyed the performance in the house in many ways.
The Michael Mayer production of Rigoletto is set in 1960s Las Vegas, where the Duke’s palace is really set in a casino. The whole stage is filled with slot machines, dancers, neon lights, and things that one would never find in fifteenth century Mantua. The subtitles and translations were even changed to the “rat-pack” language of the set era. Verdi would never have known that “dough” meant “money”, for example. This may sound crazy, but I felt that the production worked.
The production worked because it did not affect the plot or the music, which is by far the most important part of any opera. The time period shift was a smooth one, in that all of the characters kept their personalities the same as they would have 400 years earlier. Rigoletto was still overprotective, Gilda was still a birdbrain, Sparafucile was still an entertaining villain, and the Duke, well, was still the Duke. The Vegas atmosphere even added to the plot. Gilda entering the Casino, being the innocent girl that she is, made her seem so out of place and yet curious about what the outside world is really like in a place full of gambling and strange activity. The production works perfectly well with the plot and music.
The singing was overall very good. Diana Damrau’s “Caro nome” was to die for, and she led the third act quartet and trio like a bird in flight. Piotr Bezcała’s performance of the Duke was hilarious. His dancing with the feathered Vegas girls was charming, along with the infamous aria “La donna é mobile”. Lučić was a truly, fatherly Rigoletto. The Sparafucile was toned darkly, and the low F at the end of his first act scene was held until the very second the orchestra stopped playing. The orchestra sounded lovely after a tiring evening of playing the six-hour premiere of Wagner’s Parsifal the night before. The men’s chorus also sounded great and sneaky after a long evening of Wagner, and at the same time, looked spiffy in their smoke jackets.
During the second intermission of Rigoletto, my father and I attended the opera quiz in List Hall. We got a nice hello from William Berger and the other members of the radio staff assisting with the preparation of the quiz. Barbara Frittoli was there as a guest to advertise for her role as Elisabeth de Valois in Don Carlos, which premieres next week. I also had the opportunity to meet a fellow Met Trivia King, Chris Browner. A freshman at Columbia University, he is one of few young opera lovers, like me, who appreciate opera and know what is behind it. The Met Trivia Queen and King finally met.
The quiz was entertaining. The piano identification part of the quiz was based on examples of operas where characters experience realization through the thought of death or death of another character, such as Tosca with Cavaradossi when she does not know he has really been executed. The presto round was naming operas that take place in Spain, and yet are neither written by Spanish composers or sung in Spanish. The quiz is always fun to listen to or watch on a Saturday afternoon.
You thought I was having the best afternoon ever, right? So did I, until the opera ended.
My father and I left to beat the crowd after Rigoletto cries that the curse was the cause of Gilda’s death. We both walked down the stairs to get backstage, where we were going to say hello to Diana Damrau. I turned the corner, and standing there talking to someone, was Jonas Kaufmann. Jonas Kaufmann is my favorite singer of today. My feet came to a dead halt, and I turned around to my dad coming down the stairs and intensely whispered, “JONAS IS RIGHT THERE”. Since Jonas and I are both in Parsifal, I was able to meet him earlier at a rehearsal. Luckily, when I approached him today, he recognized me and waved! I told him how much I loved his new CD, “Kaufmann: Wagner, Tenor Arias and Lieder”, and how it was so interesting hearing the Wesendonck Lieder sung by a tenor. He thanked me and agreed that it was fascinating hearing the Lieder in a new perspective. My father and I congratulated him on a successful Parsifal premiere, and wished him luck for Monday night. He smiled and thanked us again and shook my father’s hand. I told my father never to wash his hand again. For one of the most famous and well-known opera singers of today, Jonas Kaufmann is obviously a down to earth, genuinely nice person to know.
Photo: Jonas Kaufmann and me at a rehearsal of Parsifal in late January
After being shell-shocked from the Jonas Kaufmann encounter, my father and I continued on our journey to the backstage artists’ area. We waited to be allowed into the lounge and were finally allowed once the security guard let us through. We walked through the lounge and I passed a woman who looked exactly like Anjelica Huston. I later found out that it was Anjelica Huston herself. Anjelica went in front of me and said her hellos to Diana. She walked out and I shyly said, “Hi, Ms. Huston.” She responded, “Hi! How are you?”. I couldn’t believe that I was talking to Morticia from the Addams Family. I said “I’m fine thank you, how are you?”. She responded “Great!” and that was it. Wow.
We finally got into Diana Damrau’s dressing room and were able to thank her for a wonderful performance as Gilda. We even got to meet her little newborn Colyn, who was able to get Diana’s trait of beautiful blue eyes. He even gave me a little smile. She loves the production and cast and is looking forward to performing her first Violetta in March. As we have become friends over a couple of seasons, she congratulated me on the premiere of Parsifal. Let me repeat that: Diana Damrau congratulated me on the premiere of Parsifal. Wow again. We said our bravas and left Diana to rest and take care of Colyn.
What an afternoon. I attended a performance of Rigoletto with an entertaining new production and singing with an opera quiz in between. In addition, I got to meet Anjelica Huston and talk to two great Bavarian opera singers: Jonas Kaufmann and Diana Damrau. It was one of the happiest Saturdays that I have ever lived.