What happened in Vegas should have stayed in Mantua.
Michael Mayer's new highly advertised production of Rigoletto set in 60s Vegas seemed a sure thing. The entire first scene in the opera is even set with dance music interspersed with hit singles that unfold like a headlining act on the strip. The set was all neon. The costumes were fab. The translations hep; "You send me to the moon."
So what went wrong?
It wasn't the singing. The principals are veterans of the roles and each delivered. Štefan Kocán was particularly impressive as Sparafucile. But each of the characters who were interviewed between acts had to admit that the new production didn't alter much of the way that they understood their roles or their singing.
Monterone was a shiek. Humor? Hmmm. Anyway, it distracted from the central moment of his entrance and from the whole idea of the curse. The girl who jumped out of the glitzy Egyptian sarcophagus looked more like a showgirl than his daughter. Bad luck is common in the town that imports money and exports losers. But curses? Curses that wreck comedians? It didn't work.
The abduction scene made little sense either. The whole gang showed up? During the scene in which the Duke forces himself upon Gilda we never actually saw Gilda, just the Duke going downstairs. It wasn't horrifying enough. Too sanitized. Too disconnected.
The third act worked. It was set around a small strip club with neon lights that had become disentangled and vertical. The lights were deep blue but flashed white during the storm. Later, the body was stuffed into the trunk of a car. Problem: it no longer looked like Vegas. It could have been anywhere.
Tempos by conductor Michele Mariotti also tended to slow in the first two acts and that compounded the sense that things were not moving; not developing. The sets during Act I and II were also big and prevented the intimate private qualities that Verdi sets against public scenes.
As much as this production was advertised it would not have been a good introduction to what opera can be for anyone new to the process. It was, unintentionally, the very thing that opera struggles against: a world of overstimulation that distracts from what is essential.