‘Rigoletto’ at the National Opera

It is perhaps the ultimate bel canto opera. Giuseppe Verdi’s «Rigoletto» is rightly adored the world over – there is not a superfluous note in the entire score. A dark tragedy, it contains unique, energetic melodies and suspenseful drama. «Rigoletto» premiered last Friday at the Greek National Opera and runs until January 6. Kathimerini spoke to renowned Greek opera director Nikos S. Petropoulos about his decision to move the action from Renaissance Mantua to 1938 Milan. «Let me be clear,» notes Petropoulos, «I believe that you cannot alter a play’s original setting without aligning it within a specific historical and social context. ‘Anna Bolena’ and ‘Don Carlos’ are operas based on historical events – they cannot be adapted to another age. Even ‘La Traviata,’ which is often modified, should not be, for it reflects the attitudes of a bygone era.» And «Rigoletto?» «’Rigoletto’ is such a powerful opera; if we don’t help it by restructuring it for the 21st century, it will seem like a museum piece. But its core story is truly age-defying. What big politician doesn’t have a sidekick who tags along in order to entertain him?» Petropoulos doesn’t have much sympathy for the title character. «Everybody goes around saying ‘poor Rigoletto,’ but they forget he’s one of those slimy hangers-on who influence their bosses in a negative way. Rigoletto is no saint. We’re talking about a Class-A scumbag. Take a look at the libretto – he uses his position at court in order to destroy other people’s lives. He’s got his daughter locked up. The girl begs him to tell him her mother’s name but he refuses. He conspires to murder his boss, but instead suffers the horrible fate of seeing his child die in his arms – as a result of his own actions.» So why choose 1938? «In the 1600s, the title of duke bestowed power upon its holder. Likewise, during Mussolini’s reign, the title of Ras was all-powerful. There was a Ras in every city, who was also the president of the local Fascist Party. In our production, the Duke of Manuta is the Ras of Milan, and Rigoletto is his sidekick – and one of the first fascists who fought in the streets for Mussolini before he gained power. The courtiers are party men who tolerate Rigoletto’s presence due to his background.» According to Petropoulos, who has also designed the costumes and sets, «the scenery is a realistic representation of buildings in Milan. The atmosphere is cinematic – but it’s not noir, like it’s been written. My goal was to make something fresh, using the original material Verdi wrote. It is a very dark opera in itself, so it is very fitting to stage it in a dim, foggy Milan at the peak of Italian imperialism. At the time, even Ghandi called Mussolini the greatest political leader of his time. Churchill sent him congratulatory letters. I believe my adaptation of ‘Rigoletto’ is completely suited to this backdrop.» On December 23, 26, 27, 28 & January 2, 3, 4, 6 at the Olympia Theater, 59-61 Academias, tel 210.361.2461.

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