By RONALD BLUM, Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — The Metropolitan Opera has abandoned a new production of Verdi's "Rigoletto" by director Luc Bondy, whose grim version of Puccini's "Tosca" provoked intense booing when it opened the 2009-10 season. In its place, the company will present a far more radical reinterpretation that relocates the action to Ratpack-era Las Vegas of 1960.
The Met announced its schedule for 2012-13 on Thursday, and the "Rigoletto" opening Jan. 28 will be directed by Michael Mayer, who won a 2007 Tony Award for "Spring Awakening."
Bondy's stark staging, set in the 19th century instead of the 16th, opened at the Vienna Festival last May as a co-production with the Met and Milan's Teatro alla Scala, where it will run this November.
"I think the production just wouldn't have worked here," Met General Manager Peter Gelb said.
Bondy was surprised by the decision.
"Suddenly, Peter Gelb said he didn't want it. He could never give me really a reason. I think it was he didn't want a second 'Tosca' scandal, and I can understand this," Bondy said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "It was so sudden. I was believing that Peter Gelb was supporting me after 'Tosca.'"
While calling Gelb "very courageous" and saying he was not angry, Bondy made clear he was taken aback when Gelb dropped his production without a discussion.
"It was completely untransparent," the Swiss director said. "It was only a message: Hello, I have to cancel. With no explanation. It was like a cold wind from I don't know where."
Gelb said he left a message only after failing to reach Bondy. He refused to discuss his reasoning, saying "I would rather not get into it," and added "it has nothing to do with 'Tosca.'"
Mayer's rethinking has precedent in regietheater — where the production team alters locale, epoch and specifications of a work's creators. In 1982 the British director Jonathan Miller moved "Rigoletto" to Manhattan's Little Italy in the 1950s for the English National Opera. And in 2005, German director Doris Dorrie shifted it to the "Planet of the Apes" for Munich's Bavarian State Opera.
In replacing a traditional Otto Schenk production that dates from 1989, Mayer will direct an opera for the first time. He will work with his regular set designer, Christine Jones, and costume designer, Susan Hilferty, and a cast that includes Diana Damrau as Gilda, Piotr Beczala as the Duke of Mantua and Zeljko Lucic in the title role.
A casino replaces the Duke's palace. An elevator will be used instead of a ladder against the garden wall. A seedy sex club on the outskirts of town stands for the inn. There will be electric lights resembling neon of The Strip.
In Mayer's mind, the Duke is akin to Frank Sinatra, surrounded by Sammy Davis Jr. and Jackie Gleason — although not literally those stars.
"Vegas was always the locus of a decadent society. Women were always showgirls or cigarette girls or prostitutes. It really was a man's world, a man's playpen," Mayer said. "It was about drinking, drugs and power and money gone wild. And it all started to fall into place."
The Met announced its season without a news conference for the first time under Gelb, who became general manager for the 2006-07 season. This will be the second straight season without ailing music director James Levine, who is recovering from multiple back surgeries. He was to have conducted the Ring Cycle, Berlioz's "Les Troyens," Donizetti's "L'Elisir d'Amore (The Elixer of Love)" and Wagner's "Parsifal."
"Our hope is that the following season he would return, but it's really too early to speculate," Gelb said.
Principal conductor Fabio Luisi takes over the Ring and "Troyens," with Daniele Gatti getting the start of the "Parsifal" run.
The season opens on Sept. 24 with Anna Netrebko, Matthew Polenzani and conductor Maurizio Benini in a new Barlett Sher production of "L'Elisir." The schedule includes the company premieres of Thomas Ades' "The Tempest" (Oct. 23) in a Robert Lepage staging with Simon Keenlyside that opens at L'Opera de Quebec this July, and Donizetti's "Maria Stuarda" (Dec. 31) in a David McVicar production with Joyce DiDonato.
Focus will be on the 200th anniversary of the births of Verdi and Wagner in 1813.