Composer Giuseppe Verdi

Saturday, 09. July 2005
07:00 pm – 09:50 pm

Duration est. 2 hours 50 minutes · 1 Interval between 1. Akt and 2. + 3. Akt (est. 08:05 pm - 08:40 pm )

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Musikalische Leitung
Zubin Mehta
Doris Dörrie
Choreographie und Bewegungsregie
Beate Vollack
Bühne und Kostüme
Bernd Lepel
Tobias Heilmann
Michael Bauer
Andrés Máspero

Il Duca di Mantova
Joseph Calleja
Paolo Gavanelli
Diana Damrau
Anatoli Kotscherga
Elena Maximova
Hannah Esther Minutillo
Il Conte di Monterone
Mikhail Petrenko
Christian Rieger
Borsa Matteo
Kenneth Roberson
Il Conte di Ceprano
Steven Humes
La Contessa di Ceprano
Barbara Senator
Rüdiger Trebes
Paggio della Duchessa
Barbara Senator
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Who has Gilda on his conscience? The Duke of Mantua, who can't keep his hands off any skirt? His courtiers, who use game playing to chase boredom? Or is it the cynical court jester Rigoletto, who will not let go of his daughter Gilda or give her the freedom she would need to realize for herself "what" love is, and "who" really loves? This is as certain as Monterone's curse: one of the best-known operatic hits will be told in a totally new way by motion picture director Doris Dörrie!


Act One

At a dissipated court festivity the Duke tells his courtiers about an unknown, beautiful young girl whom he has been meeting clandestinely for the past three months and whom he now plans to conquer. For the time being, however, it is the Countess Ceprano to whom he is attracted. Her husband, the Count, is forced to look on helplessly while the Duke pays court to his wife, heedless of comment and regardless of her husband's feelings. The Duke's favourite, his jester Rigoletto, takes a great deal of pleasure in heaping caustic scorn on the betrayed husband. To the general delight of anyone who will listen, Marullo reveals that he has discovered that Rigoletto, the outsider, has a young innamorata. When Rigoletto cynically advises the Duke to have Count Ceprano thrown into prison or even executed so that he can have his way with the Countess, Ceprano's friends decide to teach the jester a lesson for his outrageous behaviour. Count Monterone bursts in and denounces the Duke as the seducer of his daughter. He, too, is not safe from Rigoletto's sport. Beside himself with anger, the Count calls down a curse on the Duke and his favourite, Rigoletto.

Rigoletto meets the professional assasin, Sparafucile, who hints that he, Rigoletto, will soon be requiring his services. Rigoletto is haunted by the thought of Monterone's curse. He is worried about his daughter, Gilda, whom he keeps concealed from the world under the care of Giovanna. Gilda tells Giovanna about the attentions of a  young man who has been following her for some time and with whom she has fallen in love. Suddenly this young man appears at her side. He tells her he is a poor student and quite overwhelms her with his passionate  declaration of love. Their tryst is disturbed abruptly. The Duke disappears and Gilda follows him in her thoughts.

The Duke's courtiers plan to abduct Gilda. When Rigoletto suddenly returns unexpectedly, they assure him that it is Countess Ceprano they are intent on capturing. In this way they persuade Rigoletto to help them abduct his own daughter. Too late, Rigoletto realizes that he has been duped.

Act Two

The Duke is disconsolate when he learns that Gilda has been abducted. When his courtiers proudly present their catch, he takes Gilda into his care.

Rigoletto is looking for his daughter and it gradually becomes clear to him that she is with the Duke.

Distraught and full of shame, Gilda faces her father. He is the only one to whom she is willing to admit what has happened. Rigoletto decides to seek revenge.

Act Three

Rigoletto goes to visit Sparafucile, taking Gilda with him; he has not been able to get Gilda to forswear her love for the Duke. With the help of Maddalena, Sparafucile's beautiful sister, who acts as a decoy, the Duke is lured on to the scene. Gilda now has to watch the man she loves making advances to another woman. Rigoletto sends Gilda away so that he can review his bargain with Sparafucile.

Gilda returns secretly. She overhears a conversation between Maddalena and Sparafucile and learns about their plan to murder the Duke. Maddalena wants to spare the Duke, but Sparafucile, who has given Rigoletto his word, decides to stick to the original plan to kill the Duke unless some stranger arrives in the course of the night, whom he might then kill instead. Gilda is willing to sacrifice herself for the Duke.

At midnight Sparafucile hands Rigoletto a sack containing a corpse. Rigoletto is triumphant. Only when he hears the Duke's voice does he realize that it is the body of his murdered daughter which he is holding. Monterone's curse has finally caught up with him.

© Bavarian State Opera

From Film to Opera. How Doris Dörrie Conquers New Territory.

Rigoletto is your third production for the operatic stage, which you, as you say yourself, still regard as new territory. What do you believe is the major difference between work on a motion picture and work on an opera?

It is clearly the music that determines the rhythm of the production. This is totally unfamiliar and beautiful for me. In my film work I invent all the rhythm of a story myself, because I also write the screenplay. That's the hardest part of making a movie, finding an interior and exterior rhythm, a rhythm of the plot, the action, and the interior rhythm of the characters. It's the greatest source of errors: you think once the exterior rhythm makes sense, then you automatically have the rhythm for the characters. But that is often not the case. That's what I find the special, fascinating quality of opera. The musical rhythm of the work takes hold of me, carries me along, I can move within it, breathe with it, and this is way I tell the story.

In opera you have a prescribed story you cannot invent yourself as a screenplay. Do you feel restricted by this?

No, but I am highly dependent on a good story. In my previous opera jobs I had and have three good stories and fantastic music to go with them: Mozart's Così fan tutte, Puccini's Turandot and now Verdi's Rigoletto.

When you began working on Rigoletto, was there something like a priming spark that brought you closer to the piece?

As a film maker, I'm used to first looking at a story from the inside even though you have to tell it from the outside. With Rigoletto it was spontaneously the relationship between father and daughter that ignited the strongest feeling in me. If there is an emotional moment like this, one that scores a direct hit on me, then I can build the play concentrically around it. In this case it was, as I said, Gilda and her father.

A father-daughter relationship with lethal ending. Can this be generalized?

The tragedy of the relationship between parents and children that is so exemplarily revealed and elevated to extremes here can be found in the mixed messages, as psychology calls them, with which people can murder children. In the opera the music tells us so fantastically that the tenderness, the protector instinct of the parents is the one side, but that Rigoletto in his loneliness and deformity - which I see more on the inside than the outside - expects his daughter to assume responsibility for his happiness, and that is probably the worst thing you can inflict on your children. From the moment when Gilda starts seeking her own happiness, Rigoletto sees his own existence, his happiness imperiled. From that moment on he becomes a cruel father, who severely punishes his daughter, who refuses to forgive her, who will not allow her to disengage herself from him - ultimately this is what kills her. Anyone who is a father or mother has to fight against the fact that the time will come when you have to let go of your children. This experience is painful for everyone. And the opera brings this out so clearly. After all, in normal life we don't sing when we have problems. Here, however, the singing starts at the point where words fail. And I can relate very strongly to that. Singing is the desperate expression that remains when every attempt to behave in a civilized manner, to treat things rationally, to talk and discuss, collapses in failure.

Rigoletto thus behaves egotistically toward his daughter. This reflects a very powerfully patriarchal way of thinking. How much sympathy do you feel for this character?

As a writer and author and, of course, also as a director, it is always important to feel something for every character. I'd like to be able to sympathize with murderers, with villains and with patriarchal fathers. This is very easy here, because I can understand Rigoletto very well, as well as I understand Gilda or the Duca. The fact that their relationship winds up so catastrophically and costs a human life, that is the tragedy of this story.

Rigoletto is an opera with pronounced theatrical archetypes: the womanizer, the hunchback, the corpse in the sack. Are these obstacles for an interpretation?

No, I see them more as sources of enthusiasm. When you write a screenplay the first rule is to be very clear. These trappings that you mentioned allow me to take a direct approach to the characters, to look at them more precisely. In this sense, I am more convinced that the Duca is not just a womanizer but also has a tender side. I simply believe the music. I believe him when he sings in the first act duet with Gilda that he really loves this girl, that he is enchanted by her and through her has discovered something in himself that he never knew before. In that moment, it is true.

Gilda, whom the duke also sings of as a "donna celeste" appears very idealized in keeping with the idealized image Rigoletto has of his daughter or the duke has of his beloved. What do you see in this character?

I have no difficulty seeing her as a human being, a child of her father. The devastatingly moving quality children have is the way they want to protect their parents, regardless of how their parents treat them. Even a child who is subjected to physical or psychological violence will, up to a certain age, always defend its father when he is attacked. This enormous protective reflex children have and their readiness to protect parents, I find that very stirring. Everyone knows how bad it is for a child to experience weakness in a parent, when it sees its father cry. It's downright murderous for a child. This is why I keenly understand why Gilda is so torn, when Rigoletto forces her to comfort him, to protect him, to give him all her warmth. Demanding that sort of thing from children is something like a taboo injury, but I can also see why someone seeks this kind of unconditional tie with children, especially when that person is himself sad or embroiled in a crisis. The pedagogically "correct" way of going about things would be for Rigoletto to say: I am the father, you are the child. I nurture you, but you are free to find your own way. He can't bring himself to do that because he is so horribly lonely.

And that's why he reacts so extremely, confining her as he does?

But to a certain degree we all do that with our children: naturally we'd all rather lock up our children. We don't want them going out into a dangerous world, having our daughters in some disco surrounded by wild young men finding their great love, who then takes them away from up. The opera very clearly reveals that to us.

You very distinctly pinpoint where the danger is, namely in the cynical, cruel society to which Gilda and Rigoletto are subjected?

I spent a long time reflecting on how we might display a society like that today. Unfortunately the only equivalents we could find for that - whether our party society or the widespread TV decadence you'll find in a show like "I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!" - would not be recognizable as a completely vulgar, cynical, brutal, decadent society, just because it's the world we live in. That means you can't put this story in that normal environment, but you have to go to some extremes to display that dehumanization.

The famous movie classic The Planet of the Apes was obviously an inspiration here?

Yes, it was an inspiration, although the film told us that apes are ultimately more human than human beings. In the opera, this is only true under certain conditions, revealing this primarily in the character of the Duca, whose love of Gilda offers him an opportunity for greater humanity. All the others behave as crudely as animals, although animals are only following their instincts. I must confess that I have long had an interest in the behavior of animals, especially primates. My very first job, as a matter of fact, was in the Institute of Behavioral Studies in Seewiesen, which I started after completing my studies in film editing. Back then I was a great admirer of Jane Goodall, who had lived among the chimpanzees. I remember how horrified this zoologist was when she was forced to discover that her adored monkeys were capable of waging war, that they also battled without any reason, and massacred one another out of vengefulness. That was such a incredibly shattering experience for her because she actually believed monkeys were better humans. On the other hand, our attempts to project our human behavior on animals are centuries old, and there are countless examples of this in art history. The monkeys are usually used as a two-way mirror that continuously raises the question: which is more "human" - humans or animals? Today's genetic research has discovered that humans differ only slightly from primates in their genetic potential, which confirms how thin the layer of our civilization is. In view of this fragility of civilizational substance, every cultural effort is so endlessly important. This is why it is also so important not to lose music and the art form of opera as an option, an appeal to us to behave in a civilized fashion, because there is no point fooling ourselves: the majority of young people have already lost these cultural values, that is to say, they no longer have them on their radar screens. And herein lies the third consideration of the Rigoletto concept, that we are most likely to bring across this art to the 30 to 40 generation if we tell our story in the images of our modern media world, and thus keep them alive. After all, it is a total cultural horror scenario that all the opera houses might one day collapse and with them all the treasures of our operatic and musical culture. And here I speak from my own highly personal experience: only four years ago, when I started doing my own operatic productions, did I begin to realize what I had been missing by not knowing and enjoying this operatic treasure. That is why I now believe that we must do everything we can to make opera more easily accessible, to expand its area of influence. Otherwise things may start looking like our first scene, where the opera houses have almost all disappeared, because they're flat broke anyway, and because the cultureless have gained the upper hand.

This conversation was conducted by Hella Bartnig.

English translation by Donald Arthur

© Bavarian State Opera

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Zubin Mehta was born in 1936 and grew up in a musical family in his native Bombay. After first studying medicine for two semesters he concentrated on music in Hans Swarowsky's conducting class at the Vienna academy.

Zubin Mehta won the Liverpool International Conducting Competition in 1958 and was also a prize-winner at the Koussevitzky Competition in Tanglewood. By his mid-twenties he had already conducted both the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonic Orchestras and retains close ties with both.

Zubin Mehta was Music Director of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra from 1961 to 1967 becoming Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra in 1962, a post he retained until 1978. In 1969 he also became Music Adviser to the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and was made Music Director of that orchestra in 1977. In 1981 he was made Music Director for life. Zubin Mehta has conducted nearly two thousand concert performances with this extraordinary ensemble on tours spanning five continents. In 1978 he became Music Director of the New York Philharmonic commencing a tenure lasting 13 years, the longest in the orchestra's history and, since 1985, he has been chief conductor of the Maggio Musicale in Florence.

Zubin Mehta made his debut as an opera conductor with Tosca in Montreal in 1964. Since then he has conducted at the Metropolitan Opera New York, the Vienna State Opera, the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, La Scala Milan, and the opera houses of Montreal, Chicago and Florence as well as at the Salzburg Festival.

Zubin Mehta's list of awards and honours is extensive and includes the "Nikisch-Ring" from the Vienna Philharmonic as well as having been made, in 2001, an honorary member of the orchestra. He is an honorary citizen of both Florence and Tel Aviv and was made an honorary member of the Vienna State Opera in 1997. In 1999 Zubin Mehta was presented the "Lifetime Achievement Peace and Tolerance Award" of the United Nations by Lea Rabin. In April 2001 President Chirac created him "Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur". In January 2004 the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra bestowed the title of "Honorary Conductor" on Zubin Mehta.

Zubin Mehta has been Music Director of the Bavarian State Opera and the Bavarian State Orchestra from 1998 to 2006. Quite apart from his commitments and responsibilities for the musical leadership of new productions, repertory performances and concerts associated with this position, he has also led the State Orchestra on two major European tours and the whole opera company on tours to Japan.

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