De Munt stages groundbreaking Rigoletto opera
Currently playing at De Munt, Robert Carsen’s version of Verdi's legendary opera features a circus setting, shameless decadence and a lot of nudity
One of opera's most famous arias
Hunchback Rigoletto is the court jester of the Duke of Mantua, an infamous and callous playboy. Duke and Rigoletto get along fine and often team up for the sake of the Duke’s scandalous games, until one night the father of one of the victims of the Duke’s philandering ways places a curse over both of them.
But the conflict that Rigoletto later blames on the curse was actually set in motion earlier when the Duke set his eyes on an innocent girl in the church. Unbeknown to the Duke, the beautiful Gilda is Rigoletto’s daughter, who he keeps hidden away. When Rigoletto discovers that she has been seduced by his master, he falls into a rage and hires assassins to kill him.
In Canadian director Robert Carsen’s version, the opera’s medieval setting is traded in for a circus, and, certainly unlike its premiere in 1851, it contains a considerable amount of nudity. The jester – or in this case clown, who can be seen entertaining the Duke’s friends with an inflatable doll – enters the stage with a roar of laughter and almost imperceptibly breaks into tears.
The true strength of the piece, however, still lies with its creator. With Rigoletto, Verdi is said to have revolutionised lyrical art. The Italian libretto was adapted from Victor Hugo’s play Le roi s'amuse (The King Amuses Himself), which contained all the elements for a perfect opera: court intrigue, shameless decadence and paternal emotions that combine to lead to the most tragic event thinkable.
With “La donna è mobile” – the woman is fickle, meaning prone to infidelity – sung by the Duke on the streets just before his assassin arrives, Verdi composed one of the most famous arias in opera history.
Until 23 May at De Munt, Brussels