Opera 101 – Rigoletto

The second Opera 101 of the season took place at the Duke of Westminster last night. The panel were tenor David Lomeli, director Christopher Alden and designer Michael Levine. Once again the event was moderated by Brent Bambury. Alden kicked off with describing his overall concept for the production which he sees as being about how people balance their public and private lives in a world of constraining and essentially corrupt power structures. We got a fair amount about the history of the production which originated with a version in Chicago that got very mixed reviews. Michael Levine also talked about his view that people today see differently from people in Verdi’s time (the argument turns on the relationship between painting and stage aesthetics) and therefore he designs to meet our visual perceptive expectations. Inevitably at this point we got into the perpetual Opera 101 debate about it being all about the singing and can we have our traditional productions back please. It actually was almost a caricature of that debate with Alden saying that if he didn’t get booed he hadn’t done his job. Sometimes I almost (almost!) sympathise with the traditionalists. It’s obvious that the aesthetic Powers That Be really despise them. I suppose I do too really.

Gears changed a bit when emphasis turned to David Lomeli and his discovery as an “unknown” by Placido Domingo. Articulate as Lomeli was (far more articulate than Alden or Levine), it didn’t ring quite true. I think there are genuine discoveries of kids who knew nothing about opera growing up but I’m not sure that can be true for someone whose grandmother sang with Di Stefano and spent seven years as a professional singer at the opera in Mexico City. He was interesting and funny on how he reacts as a singer to different production concepts. As always, I think this boils down to a singer takes what they are given until/unless they become a superstar and then they get to pick and choose. He did do a neat demonstration of how an operatic tenor treats high notes versus how a mariachi singer does. He nearly blew the lid off the pub in the process.

I got to ask Christopher and Michael if there were more obscure or neglected works (rather than reinventing war horses) that they would like to bring to the stage. I was surprised but heartened that they both wanted to do new, contemporary work. Alden said there were a couple of younger American composers he was interested in but wouldn’t name names.

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