Antonio Albanese will direct ‘Rigoletto’ at the Verona Arena

“My best work”. This is how Giuseppe Verdi defined ‘Rigoletto’ after having defied censorship and conquered the public of half of Europe, including Victor Hugo, author of the scandalous drama ‘Le Roi s’amuse’ translated into music by Verdi with verses by his trusted Piave. For a masterpiece of musical theater of all time, which has never left the repertoire since the Venetian premiere of 1851, the Arena Foundation looks to a man of theater (and of Italian cinema) of today, calling in the direction of Antonio Albanese, award-winning actor and director who has already signed opera stagings, among others, at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan, at the Lirico in Cagliari, at the Petruzzelli in Bari and at the Philharmonic in Verona: ‘Rigoletto’ will be his large-scale debut in the thousand-year-old Veronese amphitheater.

With him, the creative team of the new staging is made up of experts such as Juan Guillermo Nova on the sets and Paolo Mazzon on the lights. ‘Rigoletto’ is the seventh most performed title in the history of the Festival, with 102 performances distributed in ten different productions over sixteen summers up to 2017, all with a historicizing and traditional imprint. This production comes exactly twenty years after the last one, which reconstructed the 1928 sketches: it is also the first occasion, since 2011, in which the Arena di Verona offers a second new staging at the same Festival.

On the Arena stage, the story of Rigoletto will be told in a new form, which will underline the dramatic force of situations and relationships between characters, unchanged also making the men on stage closer to contemporary feeling. The story will take place in Polesine in the 1950s, part of that rural plain where Verdi was born and chose to live, which later became the place of choice for great Italian cinema, from Fellini to Pupi Avati. The entire production will be a tribute to post-war neorealist cinema, a season in which deep wounds and the desire for rebirth coexist. The power relationship between the Duke does not change – here a large landowner, admired, feared and envied by his people – and his subordinate Rigoletto, a fixer chosen for his wit among the many sharecroppers, peasants and humble that the master has at his disposal (and abuses ). Dark nights in the countryside become the silent theater of secret encounters, love affairs, mysterious affairs and obscure crimes, as per the booklet.

“It is a real honor for me to take care of the most dramatic court jester – says director Antonio Albanese -. I consider Rigoletto a fiery work capable of exalting passion and love, revenge and power. Animating and setting this masterpiece inside the Arena di Verona, moreover for the one hundred years of this unique space in the world, makes me happy. I will try to exalt this poignant story, committing myself with authentic devotion and passion, promising myself and promising not to take possession of the work”.

The four performances from July 1st to August 4th line up a cast of stars, starting with the protagonist, which alternates some of today’s most sought-after baritones: Roman Burdenko, Ludovic Tézier, Luca Salsi – none of whom has ever faced this role in Verona – and Amartuvshin Enkhbat, who made her Arena debut in ‘Rigoletto’ in 2017. Her beloved daughter Gilda is played by two specialists such as the Armenian soprano Nina Minasyan – already acclaimed Violetta – and the American Nadine Sierra, who 4 August will make his stage debut in the Arena after a presence in concert nine years ago.

Surprises are not lacking even on the tenor front: the Azeri Yusif Eyvazov, historic friend of the Arena, who has also chosen new characters for demanding trials, interprets the Duke for the first time in the performances of 1 and 7 July; in addition to him, for one date each, two different Dukes, Juan Diego Flórez and Piotr Beczała, will make their debut in the Amphitheater. Not least are the roles of Sparafucile and Maddalena, brothers in (bad) business: Arena debut for the bass Gianluca Buratto and confirmation for the young mezzo-soprano Valeria Girardello. The flanking roles bring together experts and talented young people: Agostina Smimmero (Giovanna), Gianfranco Montresor (Monterone), Nicolò Ceriani (Marullo), Riccardo Rados (Borsa), Matteo Ferrara and Francesca Maionchi (Counts of Ceprano), Giorgi Manoshvili (usher ), Elisabetta Zizzo (page). Conducting the international cast, as well as the Orchestra of the Fondazione Arena di Verona and its men’s choir prepared by Ulisse Trabacchin will be Maestro Marco Armiliato, former musical director of the last Festival.

“We chose a narration of Rigoletto that was both close and distant, clear but intriguing, – explains Cecilia Gasdia, superintendent and artistic director of the Fondazione Arena di Verona – a vaguely familiar recent past. Verdi used Hugo, Shakespeare, Schiller and Dumas to speak to the public of his time: while he was writing, his everyday life infiltrated the most romantic subjects and the most archetypal characters to give them a new life, ‘inventing a real’ more powerful than any imitation. The happy invention of ‘La donna è mobile’ is an example of this: a melody that is immediately engraved in the mind – it is said that Verdi asked for the utmost secrecy so as not to let it leave the rehearsals, not even hummed – and a powerful man sings it at the tavern, the noblest character of the poster who mixes with the humble for his own purposes. And the protagonist, the most profound and complex character, is also the most socially marginalized: a very modern anti-hero”.

This Rigoletto “is part of a wide and diversified artistic offer – concludes Stefano Trespidi, deputy artistic director of the Arena Foundation – on the one hand we have six productions that are as many great classics, a real anthology of visions and ways of understanding the work in the Arena in the last thirty years, with masterpieces by masters such as de Bosio, Zeffirelli, de Ana; on the other hand, not in antithesis but to complete the offer itself, the freshness of the new productions of Aida and Rigoletto aims to offer alternative views and intrigue the widest possible audience: the Arena, like the Opera, belongs to everyone and for everyone ”.

‘Rigoletto’ is just one of the titles that make up the rich and awaited program of the Arena Festival, an event that every year attracts hundreds of thousands of spectators from all over the world, a resource for the city and the territory, which this year has reached its edition number 100. The program represents an unprecedented artistic and productive effort: the 100th Festival 2023 counts 49 unmissable evenings from 16 June to 9 September in which 8 opera titles and 5 gala evenings with Roberto Bolle will alternate in the same season , Juan Diego Flórez, Plácido Domingo, Jonas Kaufmann, the Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro alla Scala conducted by Riccardo Chailly.