Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto tells a story that is all too familiar for a parent. A young daughter, Gilda, grows up and seeks her own happiness outside of the safe world in which her father, Rigoletto, has kept her.
In a Voice Program performance with the Music School Festival Orchestra at 8:15 p.m. Monday in the Amphitheater, director Mikhaela Mahony’s adaptation of Rigoletto will ask, “How can we change the world so a Gilda can go out into it unafraid?”
Rigoletto may seem paranoid for keeping his daughter so protected, Mahony said, but the story is set in a time when women are seen as objects that can be taken, and in the end, his biggest fears come true.
“Rigoletto takes place in a world that is very cynical and cold,” Mahony said. “That world is uncomfortably similar to our world. Gilda is seen as less than, and an object, and I can relate to that as a young woman.”
She said she can only imagine being a parent and sending a daughter off to college for the first time.
“It must be terrifying, just based on all the things you hear about; so many cases of rape,” she said. “To be a parent and to let go of your child in this scary world is really hard, and that’s exactly what this opera is about. And this sort of thing happens every single day.”
Mahony said it’s important to understand how relevant the production is today, even though it’s from 1851.
Rigoletto will be played by Kidon Choi and Gilda will be played by Elena Perroni. For Perroni, Gilda’s character development came from channeling the feeling of falling in love for the first time.
“A lot of Gilda’s story is about her step into young adulthood,” Perroni said. “I can see the struggle of a girl becoming a woman. She has to disobey someone she loves to make a choice for what she believes is right.”
The MSFO will join the cast of Rigoletto with Maestro Timothy Muffitt leading them through the musical complexity of Verdi.
Muffit said playing for an opera takes a different way of being an orchestra, and preparing for Rigoletto has been a time for the students to reinforce and further develop that kind of skill set.
“Anytime an instrumentalist can work with singers is an opportunity for musical growth,” he said. “The voice is the most natural instrument, so connection with that is eye-opening and inspiring.”
Mahony said the juxtaposition of the hugeness of the orchestra with the minimalist set on stage allows for the movement of the players to be showcased.
“You can feel very far away, but I think the story really comes across this way, when you have this vastness, yet extreme specificity with the action on stage,” Mahony said. “And you can really see the people, which I think is important in a story so grand, because this story is also very personal.”
Stage director John Giampietro said the use of bodies and relationships between performers are the foundation of all the voice program’s productions.
Mahony and Giampietro did not rely on an expensive set to create a sense of space and a dynamic performance in the show. The Amp, the directors agreed, presents a big challenge for creating a set that does Verdi’s work justice.
“His spaces are sort of nebulous,” Mahony said. “We’re sort of playing with how these characters exist in these in-between spaces. We’re also using the chorus a lot to create that sense of space.”
She said the chorus has a dual purpose, existing as the guests at The Duke’s parties, and as psychological projections of Rigoletto’s fears.
“They are a big element in terms of creating an aesthetic and a shape on stage,” she said.
What struck Mahony immediately when she began working on the show was the significance of a few unusual props.
“Verdi is really specific about masks and ‘the sack,’ ” she said. “Those props became springboards of inspiration when we really delve into what those elements could be.”
In this adaptation, the sack is really more of a sheet, Mahony said, adding that it follows the evolution of Gilda’s character from being part of the bed she is tucked into by her father, and ultimately what encases her body when she dies.
Pieces by Verdi are known for challenging young artists musically and dramatically, which makes Rigoletto an important experience.
Perroni said performing Verdi requires a different kind of discipline for singers.
“It’s so worthwhile in the end, because it’s so hard,” she said. “Verdi teaches you how to sing better. It propels you forward.”
She said the greatest composers, such as Verdi, teach singers to hone their craft.
“They have it all written for you,” Perroni said. “If you are able to follow that, it’s like a voice lesson in itself.”