The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Is it an opera or a musical? Verdi’s operatic masterpiece “Rigoletto” travels to Las Vegas in the “Live in Hi-Def” broadcast by the Metropolitan Opera this Saturday afternoon. Plus, cellist Karl Lavine plays a FREE concert of Rachmaninoff on Friday at noon. | February 13, 2013

ALERT: This week’s FREE  Friday Noon Musicale, from 12:15 to 1 p.m. in the historic Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Landmark Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society, 900 University Bay Drive, features Madison Symphony’s Orchestra principal cellist Karl Lavine (below) and pianist Karen Boe in the music of Sergei Rachmaninoff.

Karl Lavine, principal cello of WCO

By Jacob Stockinger

One of the all-time great opera masterpieces is Verdi’s “Rigoletto.”

In fact, one nationally famous opera expert – who had studied at the University of Wisconsin-Madison – once told me it was his top choice to see for people who didn’t yet know opera. (The Ear would have surely thought that his choice for a first-timer would be Puccini’s “La Boheme.” But, nooooo.) The inexperienced listener would surely fall in love with the art form of opera after experiencing “Rigoletto,” he claimed.

Well, no one can deny that the 1851 opera by Verdi (below) does have its share of great drama and great tunes, including the famed  “La donna e mobile” and “Questa o quello” (at bottom in a YouTube video).

Verdi Giuseppe

You can see and hear why the work is so great this Saturday afternoon when “Live From the Met in HD” will broadcast the newest production by the Metropolitan Opera of the classic work.

Rigoletto HD poster

The live broadcast – complete with commentary and behind-the-scenes looks – will be at Point Cinemas on Madison’s west side and the Eastgate cinemas on Madison’s east side.

The show will begin at 11:55 CST and run about 3-1/2 hours. But seats often fill up quickly, and many audience members arrive at least one hour early to get the best seats or the ones they like.

The adventurous concept staging (below) updates the opera from 16th-century Italy, complete with a palace, duke and court jester, to mid-20th century Las Vegas, complete with show girls. The production has drawn some interesting and conflicting reviews. Is it really opera or a musical? some have asked.

Rigoletto Met HD

Rigoletto Met HD

Met Rigoletto Sara Krulwich NY TImes

So in preparation for going, you can look at these:

Here is a review by the senior critic for The New York Times, Anthony Tommasini (below), who spoke in Madison during the centennial celebration of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Pro Arte String Quartet:


And here is a review by Pulitzer Prize-winner Manuela Hoelterhoff (below), who now works for Bloomberg News but who used to work for the Wall Street Journal:

Manuela Hoelterhoff

Here is some background and context I found particularly interesting at

And here is a link to the actual promos for “Rigoletto” at the website for “Live From the MET in HD.” It features video and audio samples as well as links to a synopsis, a cast list and other information:

What do you think of the new production? The Ear wants to hear.


  1. I’ve never been to the opera although i always wanted to see how it is. I’ve had some chances to go, but i never had the time.
    Now that i have some time i’m looking for a good show and it’s nice to see people giving advice at what to watch first and what i should be on the lookout for.
    Thanks for sharing this with us.

    Comment by Puiu — February 13, 2013 @ 4:36 pm

  2. Well, I can’t comment on the production, but my two cents on introducing someone to opera? Don’t go Bel Canto. Many people, including myself for some years, find the vocal style thoroughly obnoxious (to put it kindly). Plus, many first-time operagoers want to pay attention to the plot, which ought to disqualify La Boheme for the appalling weakness of Mimi’s character alone.

    My vote – Mozart. Le Nozze di Figaro was my first real introduction to opera, and it got me hooked in minutes. The vocal style is much more accessible, I think, and a lot of people who get sick of the usual coloratura soprano and lyric tenor sound go for his prominent bass and baritone roles, which often have a less prominent (or at least slower and narrower) vibrato (at least in this style), one of many people’s biggest complaints about operatic singing. The absurdity of some of the plots (Figaro’s, certainly) is accepted more easily because the influence of the commedia dell’arte is so blatant, the images so exaggerated.

    Where La Boheme often feels as though it pretends at realism and fails, Figaro is unabashedly farcical, and therefore I think more successful. Plus, the stage business is funny – a huge plus when introducing someone to the art, especially a young audience. Unbelievable “love-at-first-sight” romances between a soprano and a tenor get old before you’ve even seen one, and many outright laugh at the idea of someone hitting high B flats while dying of tuberculosis – even as someone who likes opera, I really have to pretend there’s no text to Boheme because it ruins the music.

    There’s my rant for the day, I guess. Incidentally, Don Giovanni is just as good as Figaro for an introduction, and doesn’t feel as long in the latter half (provided Il Mio Tesoro is cut, which it unfortunately never is). The only problem for a first-time viewer is the epilogue, which can feel trite.

    My 2¢…

    Comment by Mikko Utevsky — February 13, 2013 @ 12:17 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

    Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 1,196 other followers

    Blog Stats

    • 2,067,203 hits
%d bloggers like this: