Verdi in search of ….

After “Die Fledermaus” had flown the coup, having been favorably regarded as a concert instead of a full production, the search for who was going to perform in Opera York’s next spring production of Rigoletto was at hand. Not an easy task since the performing arts are trying to make a full recovery from the slow times of the pandemic. There is a copious amount of uncertainty in the field. But Opera York can always rely on some of its friends. Everyone who has worked with this company happily comes back, if possible. Thus, I heard that Andrew Tees is coming back as Rigoletto. He is a favorite of mine.

But that is not the search I was going to tell you about. I will take you to 1850, when Verdi was asked to compose a new opera for La Venice of Venice. The theatre still exists, as does the restaurant of the same name adjacent to it. Francesco Maria Piave, his librettist, with whom he had already created 5 operas, came first up with a play by Alexandre Dumas. Yes, THAT Dumas of “Count of Monte Christo” Fame. Verdi thought that the play “Kean“ was too tame. He wanted something juicier. They came across Victor Hugo’s “Le rois s ’amuse”, meaning “The king amuses himself”. It was forbidden to be performed nearly 20 years earlier in France. It was then and is now common knowledge that kings have been known to take their pleasure whenever and wherever they pleased. But in France it was not allowed to associate their king, or any king, with such behavior. Why Verdi thought that Austria was more evolved on the subject no one knows. But he was sure that he could persuade the powers that existed, namely The Austrian Board of Sensors, to bend to his will. But there too was a copious amount of uncertainty. Some people said yes to the idea, some said no. And as the libretto took shape and was reviewed and reviewed and rewritten again and again, the deadline came closer and closer and a definite YES had not been achieved, despite that the story was changed no longer had a king but a count, the location was a place that had not existed in a long time, the people around the story were all altered. And finally in the last second before the curtain was to go up an OK was gotten. The performers had rehearsed and most knew their parts before opening night. Of course, all performers had to swear on their life not to even breathe a single note in public before the curtain went up; except Felice Varesi as the hunchbacked Rigoletto. He only learned his part a few hours beforehand. He panicked as he was to enter the stage and froze. Veri pushed him roughly out of the wing onto the stage. It got a laugh, and the opera was on its way to becoming a major success and was performed within 2 years all over Europe and beyond.

In the program it should have said: Any similarities to people and places are strictly coincidental.

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