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caption: Seattle Opera updates the classic "Rigoletto," in a feminist take from director Lindy Hume
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Seattle Opera updates the classic "Rigoletto," in a feminist take from director Lindy Hume
Credit: photo @ Sunny Martini, courtesy Seattle Opera

Seattle Opera updates Rigoletto as a stand-in for misogynist leaders

You say you don’t know anything about opera?

Chances are you’ve heard some of the art form’s most famous melodies — from Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” to “Figaro, Figaro, Figaro,” one of the show-stopping arias in the “Barber of Seville” — without realizing it.

These tunes — and more — have been featured in Super Bowl ads, film parodies, even cartoons. But most Americans have never seen the source material that made opera an intrinsic part of Western European culture.

Even though opera companies across Europe and North America regularly present the classics, part of the challenge has been producing culturally resonant versions of stories that often read as racist, sexist and abusive today.

Take Giuseppe Verdi’s “Rigoletto,” for example.

One of the most famous, and most-produced, works in the canon, this opera features the aria “La Donne e mobile,” a catchy ear worm with some of opera’s most sexist lyrics: “Woman is fickle, like a feather in the wind. She changes her voice, and her mind. Always sweet, pretty face, in tears or laughter she is always lying.”

“Rigoletto” is the story of the Count of Mantua, a man whose serial sexual abuses are abetted by his jester, Rigoletto. That is, until the Count targets Rigoletto’s beloved daughter, Gilda. Perhaps more disturbing to contemporary audiences, despite the Count's degrading treatment, Gilda continues to profess her love for him.

How do you make that story line relevant to contemporary audiences?

Lindy Hume, is stage director for Seattle Opera’s new "Rigoletto."

She updated this classic in 2012, when Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi was on trial for his sexual abuses.

Hume doesn’t cite Donald Trump by name, but in a recent article, Hume writes that as a feminist in 2019, how could she resist focusing on the excesses of extreme wealth, the corruption of high political power, and the moral void of the court, a stand-in for Trump's White House.

Audiences can judge for themselves this month at Seattle Opera’s production of “Rigoletto” at McCaw Hall at Seattle Center. The show opens Saturday, August 10.

Opera not your thing? Check out the annual South Lake Union Block Party on Friday, August 9th, featuring the Dandy Warhols.

For something quieter, head to Kirkland’s Juanita Beach Park for 1000 Lights Water Lantern Festival, Saturday, August 10. Entertainment starts at 6 p.m.; the lantern lighting begins at 9 p.m.