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Staller Center brings Metropolitan Opera to Stony Brook

"Rigoletto" is set in 1960s Las Vegas, and the outfits show it. (The Staller Center for the Arts)
“Rigoletto” is set in 1960s Las Vegas, and the outfits show it. (The Staller Center for the Arts)

The new year draws fresh shows from the Metropolitan Opera (MET) in its latest productions of “La Rondine” and “Rigoletto.” Both decide to heighten the art by abandoning the shield of ornamentary costumes and tried-and-true clichés.

Living up to the reputation of having a stellar musical department, Stony Brook University has been partnering with the MET by bringing its live performances to the HD screen in the Staller Center for the Arts.

“Rigoletto” is one of the operas that The Staller Center for the Arts is showcasing during the course of the semester on Feb. 17.

The Staller Center also has exclusive introductions and backstage interviews. Yet for those eager to experience the majestic effect of the MET orchestra in person, a newly discovered MetOpera Students program is available for graduate and undergraduate students, including access to select final dress rehearsals.

With prices starting at $25—a fraction of the price of a regular seating—enjoying state-of-the-art opera performances is no longer out of reach for students.

As a rule, experimental productions are usually accompanied with ambiguous reviews. “La Rondine” is one prime example. A review by “The New York Times” explains this is the attempt of Giacomo Puccini, a 19th and 20th-century composer, to write “an Italian operatic equivalent of a lightly comic, bittersweet Viennese operetta.”

In his vision, a lighter romantic opera will retain the naturally emotional expressive Italian arias intercepted with satires by minor characters. His ideas came into fruition working with librettist Giuseppe Adami. A librettist is a lyricist of opera.

“La Rondine” is similar to the plot of “The Lady of the Camilias,” by Alexandre Dumas, but with the opposite ending. Magda, mistress of the rich banker Rambaldo, made a living off her beauty, yet declared that love has nothing to do with wealth.

When she came across her dream man in midst of a carouse, he exhibited the pureness of the countryside, so she abandoned her raucous life and found refuge for their love in a hotel until their money ran out.

At the point of Ruggero’s proposal, she confessed her true background, knowing she would bring dishonor to his family, and comforted the heartbroken Rugerro as she left. It was not the happy ending that occurs in a Disney movie, nor did it contain the tragic deaths of a Shakespearean tragedy. The composer for the “Camilias” operatic adaptation coincides with the composer for “Rigoletto,” Giuseppe Verdi.

“Rigoletto,” is no less of a breakthrough than “La Rodini.” Based off Verdi’s favorite play, “Le roi s’amuse” (The King Amuses Himself). Verdi’s story was adapted from being set in an imperial court to a casino during 1960s Las Vegas.

During an interview with “The New York Times,” Michael Mayer, the director of the show, said it was about, “The power, the sex, the money, the raucous pranks, luck and fortune and superstition in the air.” He explained how he drew inspiration, “I started to think about Las Vegas during the Rat Pack years. That world was very much about using women, in pretty corrosive ways, and discarding them when they were done. It all seemed to fit.”

“Rigoletto” was already written as part of the verismo movement, which was a literary movement that rejected historical or mythological subjects and instead embraced lower-class lifestyles. This laid the foundation for Mayer to revolutionize the stereotypical rigidness of an opera by modernizing its form to cater the tastes of younger generation. According to the playbill, “Rigoletto” wanted to bring the stage closer to the audience with something they are familiar with. Its flashy neon lights, a full-blown Cadillac as a prop and a brief pole dance reminded the audience of the stage of a typical Broadway show. It is the changing face of Opera to make these types of changes.

The shows keep the same universal themes and the timeless appreciation of elegant and refined vocals and the natural instrument of humans; the only difference is the means of the storytelling.

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