Rigoletto Opera Set, Basel
Pierre Yovanovitch 

The young Victor Hugo who in 1832 was forbidden to stage Le roi s’amuse under the pretext of lèse-majesté could not have imagined that twenty years later, people would be singing his verses set to music on the streets of Venice, London, and even Havana, Constantinople, or Bombay. Neither did Verdi expect the huge success of Rigoletto, given the risk involved in adapting a controversial play about a dissolute sovereign and his cynical jester, but the audience appreciated the composer’s leaving aside the patriotic themes and bel canto canons of his previous operas to produce a drama of passion with expressive force and irresistible melodic charm.

The court of Mantua that in the past was presented with the splendor of architectures conceived by Giulio Romano and frescoes of Mantegna has in contemporary performances given way to the Little Italy of the Mafia or the Planet of the Apes, thanks to the universal power of the libretto. But a production at Theatre Basel, on show until 21 June, opts for three curved walls that echo the shape of a huge staircase behind them, and move to create different spaces, in accordance with the succession of arias and concertati, with sensual transitions of light effects as the only accent in an otherwise neutral backdrop for possente amor and tremenda vendetta.