Multiple mistresses. A womanizing king who imprisoned or killed their husbands. Nineteenth Century political scandals were a lot more intense than today's freakouts over PG-13 cellphone photos of a congressman's package. Case in point: Victor Hugo's Le Roi s'amus (The King's Fool) modeled on the exploits of France's murderous King Louis-Philippe. The book was banned for more than 50 years. And when Verdi staged an Italian opera, Rigoletto, based Hugo's work, he was subjected to censorship and forced to move the production out of certain parts of that country.
This week, see what a real scandal looks like when Miami Lyric Opera stages the classic Rigoletto at Colony Theater. New Times spoke to several cast members about vengeful hunchbacks, innocent orphans, and how to portray emotion with song.
New Times: How would you describe Rigoletto?
Gina Galati, plays role of Gilda: The strong story line makes it a true drama.
Doris Lang Kosloff, conductor: It is one of Verdi's most gripping [ones].
Susana Diaz, also Gilda: It deals with family, which is a theme everyone can relate to: How sometimes fathers overprotect their daughters but to no avail. How daughters disobey their fathers and end up getting hurt. How the loss of a parent affects a family forever. These are themes that every audience member has experienced as a child, parent, or both. Audiences should expect to be very moved, but in a very familiar way.
Who are the characters?
Galati: Gilda is a young girl who is the daughter of Rigoletto. She is very innocent and is only allowed to leave the house on occasion to go to church. She is probably only 13 years old. Her mother died when she was very young. She doesn't know what her father does for a living and only knows her care taker, Giovanna.
Diaz: But Gilda is wise beyond her years and experience. At the end of the opera, she is faced with a choice - she can live out her life in miserable poverty as a woman with no prospects of marriage, or, she can give up her life to save the man she loves -- a man who seduced her and then betrayed her -- but still had her devotion. Gilda is no dummy -- she weighed the pros and cons and realized that following the footsteps of her vengeful, bitter father was not the right choice. Instead, she forgave the Duke, chose love over hatred, and turned the other cheek.
Nelson Martinez, Rigoletto: Rigoletto is a jester in the court of the Duke of Mantua. He has a hunchback and he's very ugly, but he's good at the job of humiliating the courtesans for the Duke's enjoyment. The courtiers, of course, are not very pleased with his cruelty, but Rigoletto has to act that way in order to keep his status at the court even knowing that his daughter Gilda is in constant danger of been a victim of the Duke's lust. That's why he keeps the existence of his daughter a secret. Living this dual life is not a pleasant life for him but that's the only way to provide for his family because he is rejected from society because of his deformities. So the great tragedy of this character is that he is just a victim of society and of his struggle to survive in it.
Is it challenging to portray these complicating characters in opera?
Diaz: Gilda is a very complex person, both naive and wise beyond her years, all at the same time. She is the only character who really grows and substantially matures in this opera; it's a challenge to make specific choices in the color of your voice, in your gestures, the way you carry yourself -- to show the audience that these changes have taken place.
Martinez: The greatest challenge is being able to sing the whole role without been overwhelmed by the emotion.
Rigoletto is presented by Miami Lyric Opera at Colony Theater (1040 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach) June 23 and 25 at 8 p.m. and June 26 at 4 p.m. Tickets cost $30 plus fees or $25 for students at the box office. Visit miamilyricopera.org.