‘Rigoletto’ opens Michigan Opera Theatre season

Greg Tasker
The Detroit News

Correction: This story has been updated to correct David David DiChiera's title and performance dates for the opera "27."

The Michigan Opera Theatre kicks off its 2017-2018 season with an updated version of Giuseppe Verdi’s classic “Rigoletto,” with the setting changed from a 16th century dukedom in Italy to a 1950s mob-run Little Italy, New York.

“Rigoletto” tells a story of womanizing, vengeance and tragedy.

Considered one of Verdi’s operatic masterpieces, “Rigoletto” was updated by Jonathan Miller for a London production 35 years ago (one of many variations that have been performed over the years). The Miller version makes its debut at the Detroit Opera House on Oct. 14.

While the setting and time frame have changed significantly from the original Verdi version, the opera retains its thrilling score and intriguing tales of love, lies and sacrifice.

“Rigoletto” tells the story of a father’s attempt to protect his beautiful daughter, Gilda, from a licentious, powerful admirer, which leads to vengeance and tragedy. Instead of a duke preying upon the daughter of his hunch-backed court jester, the updated version features a mafia boss attempting to seduce the daughter of his bartender in New York’s Little Italy.

Stephen Lord, principal conductor of the Michigan Opera Theatre, said the production is the most successful update of an opera he has seen.

“It illuminates the story without distracting from Verdi’s intentions,” he said. “It is a true testament to the timelessness of the work.”

“Rigoletto,” based on a play by Victor Hugo, premiered in Venice in 1851 and is considered one of the operatic masterpieces of Verdi’s middle-to-late career.

In Detroit, the opera marks the beginning of the first full season under Lord’s artistic leadership. A renowned conductor and frequent guest conductor for the Michigan Opera Theatre, Lord will oversee artistic direction through the 2018-19 season, while a search continues to replace David DiChiera. DiChiera, founder and artistic director emeritus, retired last fall.

Elaine Tyler-Hall, who is directing the Detroit production, is excited for audiences to see the updated version.

“I think ‘Rigoletto’ is one of the most amazing operas that has ever been written,” she said. “It’s a real tour de force for the tenors and contains two incredible and well-known arias. There are many, many highlights. It’s the marriage of the music with the drama that makes it so special.”

The opera includes Verdi’s beloved score, including the famous aria, “La donna e mobile,” sung by the duke or mafia boss.

Tyler-Hall, who has directed the Miller version before, said the themes in the original are more accessible to an audience with a living memory with 1950s New York.

“When Verdi wrote the piece, he was writing about a time long gone,” she said. “The issues had become irrelevant. Who cares what the duke did? Who cares if there’s violence, rape and pillage back then? It was a different time and no longer had relevance.

“Updating it to the 1950s is a time we are connected to and we can look back and relate to the issues in the piece,” she said.

Issues of violence, corruption, dysfunctional relationships and family relationships are easier to relate to in a more contemporary setting, she said.

Tickets range from $30 to $170.

Michigan Opera Theatre 2017-2018 Opera Season

Giuseppe Verdi’s ‘Rigoletto’

7:30 p.m. Oct. 14, Wed., Oct. 18, Oct. 21

2:30 p.m. Oct. 22

Wolfgang Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro,” Nov. 11-19

Ricky Ian Gordon’s “27,” March 10-11

Giacomo Puccini’s “Tosca,” April 7-15

Daniel Sonenberg’s ‘The Summer King’

May 12-20

Detroit Opera House

1526 Broadway, Detroit

(313) 237-7464