Rigoletto 12 SEPTEMBER—6 OCTOBER 2014 MAIN STAGE
The corruption of innocence is at the heart of David McVicar's production of Verdi's potent tragedy.
Rigoletto, court jester to the libertine Duke of Mantua, is cursed by the father of one of the Duke’s victims for his irreverent laughter. When the Duke seduces Rigoletto’s daughter Gilda, it seems the curse is taking effect.
Giuseppe Verdi wrote in 1855 that Rigoletto, based on Victor Hugo’s play Le Roi s’amuse, was his ‘best opera’. He had to overcome state censorship to stage it – the censors objected to its depiction of an immoral ruler – but he was vindicated by the premiere’s huge success in 1851. Rigoletto was performed 250 times in the next 10 years and has remained one of the most popular of all operas. David McVicar’s production highlights the cruelty and degeneracy at the heart of the court of Mantua. Richly dressed courtiers engage in brutal orgies and revelries to Verdi's spirited dances. In contrast, Rigoletto lives in a rundown hovel and laments his unhappy existence in a powerful soliloquy. Along with this and Rigoletto’s Act II aria ‘Cortigiani, vil razza dannata!’, musical highlights include the ebullient ‘La donna è mobile’, in which the Duke boasts of his disregard for women; Gilda’s exquisite duets with Rigoletto and the Duke; and the quartet in Act III that weaves the voices together as the story quickens to its shattering conclusion.
Manon 26 SEPTEMBER—1 NOVEMBER 2014 MAIN STAGE
Kenneth MacMillan's acclaimed tragic ballet is a modern masterpiece.
Manon's brother Lescaut is offering her to the highest bidder when she meets Des Grieux and falls in love.
They elope to Paris, but when Monsieur G.M. offers Manon a life of luxury as his mistress she cannot resist.
Kenneth MacMillan began work on Manon shortly after the birth of his only daughter. His source was the 18th-century French novel by Abbé Prévost, already adapted twice for opera by Massenet and Puccini. Renowned dance musician Leighton Lucas and his assistant Hilda Gaunt provided a score made from a patchwork of works by Massenet, including his famous yearning Elégie as the theme for the lovers. The premiere was given on 7 March 1974, the lead roles of Manon and Des Grieux danced by Antoinette Sibley and Anthony Dowell. The ballet quickly became a staple of The Royal Ballet's repertory. MacMillan found new sympathy with the capricious Manon, bringing his customary psychological insight and the memories of his own impoverished upbringing. He described his heroine as 'not so much afraid of being poor as ashamed of being poor'. Designs by MacMillan's friend Nicholas Georgiadis reflect this, depicting a world of lavish splendour polluted by miserable poverty. MacMillan's spectacular ensemble scenes for the whole Company create vivid, complex portraits of the distinct societies of Paris and New Orleans. But it is Manon and Des Grieux's impassioned pas de deux – recalling the intensity of MacMillan's earlier work, Romeo and Juliet – that drive this tragic story, and make Manon one of MacMillan's most heartbreaking dramas.
I due Foscari 14 OCTOBER—2 NOVEMBER 2014 MAIN STAGE
A despairing father is torn between love for his family and duty to a corrupt city in Verdi's searing early tragedy.
Jacopo Foscari, son of the Doge of Venice, is convicted of murder and treason. His wife Lucrezia is sure of his innocence. But the Doge, trapped by the machinations of a corrupt city, is forced to make a terrible decision.
I due Foscari, Verdi's sixth opera, is one of his darkest and saddest. At its heart is a father's realization that there is nothing he can do to protect his family against the world's cruelties. The 31-year-old composer may well have drawn on his own devastating experience of losing his wife and two infant children a few years earlier. But despite the opera's sombre soul, the music for I due Foscari contains exhilarating forerunners of Verdi's later style – particularly in the fiercely virtuosic writing for the heroine Lucrezia and her magnificent duets with the Doge in Act I and with her doomed husband in Act II. American director Thaddeus Strassberger, making his Royal Opera debut, depicts a Venice that is rotten to its core. Mattie Ullrich's opulent costume designs reference the opera’s 15th-century setting while suggesting the corruption lurking beneath. The spare sets of award-winning British designer Kevin Knight illustrate the Foscaris' isolation and the decay of the city, before flaring out into grand guignol for the opera's brilliant Act III carnival.