Opera ballet

Opera and ballet still cling to offensive and outdated motifs – The Miscellany News

On Friday March 15, I watched “Rigoletto” by Giuseppe Verdi with my mother. My mom loves Lincoln Center, loves opera, and loves to sing opera. Opera aficionados regard “Rigoletto” as standard repertoire, even though it was my first formal encounter with it. However, the song “La Donna e Mobile” was extremely familiar due to its widespread fame.

“Rigoletto” is a tragic 16th-century story about the lascivious Duke of Mantua, his court jester Rigoletto, and Rigoletto’s beautiful daughter, Gilda. The Duke seduces a courtier’s daughter with Rigoletto’s encouragement, prompting the courtier to curse them both. The curse is decreed when Gilda falls in love with the Duke and sacrifices her life to save him from the assassin hired by her father. The opera is set in “a man’s world” where women are novelty objects to be used and discarded.

Director Michael Mayer’s Met Opera production is set in a 1960s Las Vegas casino. The very first stage has red backlighting, projecting an image of the silhouettes of the 40 standing performers. Then, a flash later, the Vegas signs light up, bam! Everything is in motion; feathered dancers come out, and the men in suits in the middle laugh and clash. There are neon signs with the word “Girls” and an image of a woman putting her middle finger between her legs.

It is not the first modern production to alter the original setting of Verdi’s “Rigoletto”. However, New York Times chief music critic Anthony Tomassini was more than a little concerned about Michael Mayer’s new production. Mayer transformed Monterone, an aristocratic Italian courtier, into an Arab sheikh in order to make the curse more convincing, a change Tomassini said was “flingy and potentially offensive” (The New York Times, “Bringing the Sinatra Style Out in ‘Rigoletto, ‘ 29.06.2013.). Tomassini writes: “Making Monterone an exotic Arab marginalizes him”. This kind of directing decision made by Mayer is a bad choice, as it fits into the Orientalist narrative without too many nuances – just enough room for the exotic. This choice reminds me of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, which is also in dire need of an ideological update. Alice Robb’s article confronts the racial insensitivity in the piece, saying that “ballet, to put it mildly, is not a progressive art form” (The New Republic, “Sorry, ‘The Nutcracker’ is Racist”, 24.12.2014). Is the opera?

Before addressing the question of the opera’s progressiveness, let’s first examine the problematic scenes of “The Nutcracker”. Robb summed it up:[T]here’s a woman portraying ‘Arabic coffee’ as she hops around the stage in a belly shirt, with bells attached to her ankles. Then there’s the Chinese dance scene, where a white man playing “Chinese Tea” jumps out of a box and bows; and two white women, carrying drumsticks in their black wigs, dancing with their index fingers pointed in the air” (The New Republic, “Sorry”). The first time I saw that when I was a kid, I hated that scene. I wanted to kick the director who let this happen and knock out the dancers. I still feel like that, but instead of jumping on stage and committing unnecessary and illegal drumming, I write reviews.

Another reviewer, New York Times dance critic Alastair Macaulay, wrote, “Tchaikovsky never intended his Chinese and Arabic music to be ethnographically correct” (The New York Times, “Stereotypes in Toeshoes”, 09.12.2012 ). Robb responds, “Perhaps the longevity of the tradition partly justifies adhering to its outdated imagery. But it’s less forgivable when contemporary versions—like Alexei Ratmansky’s new production for American Ballet Theater, or Mikko Nissinen’s for Boston Ballet—don’t fix it” (The New Republic, “Sorry).

Similar problems exist in “Rigoletto”. Besides the inconveniences of the production, I thought about the scenario of the opera. In Verdi’s “Rigoletto,” teenage Gilda is guarded by her frighteningly overprotective father, Rigoletto. Except for going to church on Sundays, it is completely isolated from the rest of the world. Watching this scene, I quickly thought of marriage – a foundation of most civilizations, for some reason (there are several). In many cultural traditions, it is customary for a bride to walk down the aisle to be passed from one man (her father) to another (her husband). It always bothered me. Now I learned that the word “bride” comes from Old French, where it meant “rein” or “bridle.” Along the same lines, I don’t like that it was (or is) assumed that it would be Bride X Groom, not Bride X Bride or Groom X Groom.

Either way, we’re getting ahead. If you’re looking to experience “Rigoletto” for yourself, apparently Pavarotti’s recorded version is the best, my mom says. Otherwise, I will make a brief summary. So the Duke of Mantua poached other men’s wives and discovered Gilda at mass, found out where she lives and pretended to be a poor student to seduce her, as Gilda thought it was more romantic. She falls in love. She may be naive, but remember it was Rigoletto who kept her out of the outside world for months. Then the Duke recognizes that Gilda is the daughter of the annoying and infuriating Rigoletto, so he hatches a plan. He pretends to kidnap another person’s wife and Rigoletto, Gilda’s father, gladly joins. The Duke deliberately leads Rigoletto to the wrong place. Meanwhile, the Duke and his buddies rob Gilda and put her in an Egyptian coffin.

Can we pity Rigoletto? The Duke and his cronies – the courtiers – verbally insult him and abduct his daughter, but this is made problematic by the fact that he willingly participates in the abduction of another man’s wife. Then later, when the Duke puts his third wife to bed in the opera – who is Gilda? – he sings this famous song about the whim of women.

In “La Donna e Mobile”, the duke sings: “The woman is flighty/Like a feather in the wind,/She changes her voice/And her thought./The woman is flighty./Like a feather in the wind,/ She changes her words/And her thoughts!/Always miserable/He who trusts her,/He who entrusts her/His reckless heart!”

At that moment, I knew I was experiencing cognitive dissonance. I liked to hear a song that was familiar to my ears, and I couldn’t help humming – dun, dun, dun, dunde duh, dun, dun, dun, dun de-duh – but the subtitles spoiled. In 1989, Paul Robinson wrote a book review on opera criticism by philosopher and cultural critic Catherine Clement (The New York Times, “IT’S NOT OVER TULL THE SOPRANO DIES”, 01.01.1989), in which he explains how[Clement] complains that the opera’s music serves to numb the audience to the hateful tales told by the singers. Indeed, Robinson continues, “Clement argues that opera is the story of women’s defeat… Opera, in other words, is no different from other artistic products of our culture; it records a history of male domination and female oppression. Only it does so more blatantly and, alas, more seductively than any other art form.

In “La Donne e Mobile”, the Duke’s tune on the inconstancy of women is only an excuse for his own rude and debauched behavior. Also, I believe Gilda seems to have more conviction (its accuracy could be debated) than anyone else in this damn opera. After Gilda finds out about the Duke’s affairs with other women, she decides to give her life to save the life of someone unworthy of her. Choosing death is the antithesis of fickleness.

In Mayer’s production, this moment occurs in a fully dramatic scene, with zigzag neon lights flashing white and blue in the back to mimic lightning, and wind and thunder sound effects, as well as rolling vibrations. . Death comes with a fatal stab wound and Rigoletto discovers that Gilda died for her boss’s life.

Many main opera characters, especially women, make very poor role models, according to The Economist writer RG (The Economist, “Opera’s Awful Role Models and the #MeToo Moment”, 01/22/2018). RG says: “They fall in love with the worst kinds of men: jealous and violent soldiers (‘Carmen’, ‘Otello’) or unscrupulous lechers (‘Rigoletto’, ‘Don Giovanni’). They die horribly: Aida is buried alive; Madame Butterfly stabs herself; Tosca throws herself from the parapet of a castle. Even those who don’t die violently succumb to nasty illnesses (“La Bohème,” “La Traviata”)” (The Economist, “Opera”).

In an article, Perry Tannenbaum notes that conductor Sara Jobin called these pieces “hospitable patriarchy”. Jobin continues, “I’m so sick of seeing women abused, raped and killed on stage.” So what does watching and enjoying Rigoletto mean to audiences in 2019? Tannenbaum states:[I]It’s about teenage abuse, rape, and suicide, and it’s happening as part of Harvey Weinstein, the presidential pussy grab, and the #MeToo movement” (Creative Loafing, “Operatic Abuse in ‘ Rigoletto’ Confronts the #MeToo Generation”, 02.07. 2018).

Jobin gives 2019 opera-goers a sense of direction and productive curation, saying, “If I were a mother and my daughter watched opera with me, [here I’d interject and say this applies to dads and sons too], I would say, ‘Honey, this is a really old-fashioned operatic plot and exemplifies the Italian word rapir, which means to fly. They steal from the woman, and the word rape originally meant to steal someone else’s property. We don’t think that way anymore… but some people still do. I hope you write an opera where the girl fights back because she has a black belt in judo and sends everyone to the hospital and then becomes president or whatever she wants to do, because It’s time.

I would suggest all Vassar students give the opera a try and form their own opinion after a viewing or two. Free registration as a student of the Met Opera allows you to order $35 tickets for up to four people with orchestra seats (the best in the house), which would regularly cost upwards of $270. I’ll be there with my mom, so let me know, and we’ll discuss your thoughts during intermission.

Giuseppe Verdi’s opera “Rigoletto” opened at the Metropolitan Opera House on February 12, 2019 and will run until May 10, 2019. This production changes the typical setting of the show, placing the characters in a Las Vegas casino in the 1960s. 1960.
Courtesy of Annie Xu.