If the Austrian morality police had had their way back in 1851, Rigoletto, the tragic opera composed by Giuseppe Verdi (with libretto written by Francesco Piave), would not have been staged. In the plot, a hunchbacked court jester, Rigoletto, entertains the playboy duke of Mantua with salacious advice as to which young maidens he should chase. Considered to be the first of the operatic masterpieces of Verdi’s career, the tale involves seduction, treachery and betrayal, curses and an ultimate vendetta when Rigoletto’s own daughter Gilda is pursued, captured and inadvertently murdered. Three acts set to haunting music and packed full of bad behavior (with inferences to certain scandalous persons) were considered to hold no redeeming value, and the creators were forced to revise and edit until the opera was barely acceptable to the censors.
Fortunately for modern opera buffs, Verdi prevailed. And now we can witness his compelling music in the Northern Dutchess Symphony Orchestra (NDSO)’s presentation of Rigoletto, to be staged this Saturday, January 21 at 7:30 p.m. at Roosevelt High School in Hyde Park. Produced in a unique format called “Opera Ritaglia” that was developed by artistic director/conductor Kathleen Beckmann, the performance will feature soprano Maryann Mootos, tenor Blake Friedman and baritone Martin Fisher in the three main roles. As individual artists, they come with impressive résumés, including performance degrees from Eastman and Manhattan Schools of Music and an accumulation of performances at Carnegie Hall, Avery Fisher Hall and the Kennedy Center in Washington.
A six-year tradition of NDSO, the Ritaglia treatment shortens the work from three acts to two, while retaining the storyline and the best-loved songs. This gives aficionados and first-timers alike the opportunity to experience real operatic drama in half the time. Board president David Baxter explains that the abridgment works especially well in getting young people interested in opera, the essence of which is compacted into a two-hour program. Staging is simplified by putting the orchestra – 40 to 45 strong, including professionals and talented youth musicians – on the platform along with the singers. Rigoletto will be performed in Italian with English supertitles projected above the stage, so that everyone can follow along.
The NDSO was formed in 2006 to bring live orchestral music to northern Dutchess County and the surrounding Hudson Valley area at family-friendly prices. This production of Rigoletto is undertaken in collaboration with the Delaware Valley Opera Company and Carol Cassell, who is doing all the stage direction and management. Tickets to Rigoletto cost $20 for adults, $15 for seniors and $5 for students, and can be purchased at Molloy’s Pharmacy in Hyde Park and at Northern Dutchess Pharmacy and Oblong Books in Rhinebeck. FDR High School is located at 156 South Cross Road in Staatsburg. Call (845) 635-0877 or visit www.ndsorchestra.org for further information.