Kennedy Era Sets Tone for Opera; POWER AND SEX: Lust Drives New WNO Production of Rigoletto through Time into 20th Century

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), May 3, 2002 | Go to article overview

Kennedy Era Sets Tone for Opera; POWER AND SEX: Lust Drives New WNO Production of Rigoletto through Time into 20th Century


Byline: KAREN PRICE Arts and Media Correspondent

PICTURE the scene. It is Washington during the early 1960s and one of the world's most powerful men is being ruled by lust.

The Kennedyesque scenario has been the theme of many films but now it is to be featured in an opera.

Welsh National Opera has transported Verdi's Rigoletto from 16th Century Italy to 20th Century America for its new production, which is premiered in Cardiff tonight.

It is inspired by the myth and reality of Kennedy's Camelot, taking its tone from novelist James Ellroy's savage rewriting of American history and its style from the glamour of Truman Capote's legendary black and white party, where guests wore black and white clothes with masks.

But although it may now be set in the White House during the time of John F Kennedy's presidency, it focuses on the original Rigoletto characters.

WNO general director Anthony Freud said they felt the new setting would tell the story of Rigoletto with a greater impact but he believes it remains true to the spirit of Verdi's piece.

``The themes inherent in Rigoletto - those of lust, power and revenge - lend themselves well to a modern interpretation,'' he said. ``The link between political power and sexual appetite inevitably invites parallels with the Kennedy administration of the early 1960s.

``The whole ethos of that era was one of decadence, modernisation, social and political change - motifs reflected in this production.''

In the past, the company has staged a number of operas outside their traditional settings, including Cosi fan tutte, Pagliaccia and Don Giovanni. But Mr Freud does not believe this is ``dumbing down'' opera.

``Opera is a fluid genre that needs to evolve and grow if it is to survive. Modernising established classics allows us to make opera more relevant to a much wider spectrum of people while not losing any of the drama or impact of the original work.''

Despite modernising some productions, WNO continues to concentrate on staging traditional works. ``We don't believe you have to update an opera to give it a real impact - we take the decision from opera to opera,'' said Mr Freud.

``In our view, this is a very effective way of telling the story of Rigoletto - we are trying to give the greatest dramatic justice to a great opera.''

If ticket sales are anything to go by, today's opera audiences enjoy updated productions.

There will be four performances of Rigoletto at the New Theatre, Cardiff, tonight and May 9, 14 and 23. …

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