A-sung over at Wellsung meditates on the debased state of love in Rigoletto as embodied in the character of the Duke:
On a related note, isn't it funny that La Donna e Mobile, maybe the cruelest number in the show, has become its jaunty calling card?...and touches directly on something that's been bugging me in opernregie lo these...lo these however many minutes I've been at work, trying to come up with things to think about that don't involve work itself. I don't think I agree entirely about the nihilistic take on love described over yonder, linkwise, though I find the idea compelling, but I'm going to use it as an excuse, nay, a jumping off point for my own sermonette.
Was it not Adorno who dreamt up the idiotic notion that Wagner was the first composer to write music that reflected two conflicting emotional states simultaneously? Fine, maybe it wasn't, but some guy in college told me it was. Anyway I think perhaps audiences, as imagined by directors anyway, have all become pre-Wagnerian in our abilities to hold it in our heads that any character might have a complicated inner life.
The Duke must be a monster, as must the Count in Figaro. Susanna, while I'm on Figaro, must be 100% faithful in deed and spirit or our ideas about monogamy might develop little cracks in them. Doesn't it strike anyone else as more interesting to have these people change their minds once in a while? I have long kvetched that the reason so many productions of Figaro could be piped into hospitals for use as a sedative is encapsulated in the way the duet "Crudel, perche fin'ora" is played. Seriously, I'm getting back to Rigoletto in a flash. As my friend Emily used to say, "There is a point. I am famous for getting to the point."
"Crudel," as we see it done, is a comic little number, wouldn't seem out of place in the Catskills in 1950. The Count is a vile lech and Susanna a clever little minx who keeps slipping out of his clutches because she's true blue to her big boy. As she gets all mixed up and says no, she won't meet him in the garden and, yes, she's gonna fool him, the audience titters, and tittering is not a natural action; it's something we learned from sitcoms. But, say, just for kicks, why do you suppose she gets mixed up? Read the scene as prose and it is not confusing, least of all for a whippersnapper like Susanna.
C: So you'll come to the garden [for kinky outdoor sex]?
S: If that's what you want, I'm there.
C: And you're not yanking my chain, right?
S: Nope. I'm not yanking your chain.
C: You'll be there?
C: You're not foolin'?
C: So you'll be there?
S: Um...Nope! Tee hee hee oops I mean yeah!!! Math is hard!!!
Once upon a time, listening to the wonderfully subtle recording Matthias Goerne and Dorothea Roschmann made of this scene, I dared to dream of a production in which the Count, who is probably getting plenty of ass anyway, gets so hot and bothered about Susanna because in fact he loves her. I'm not saying he loves her well or purely, but there's something real going on there. And Susanna gets flustered not because she's suddenly Totally Hair Barbie, but because she loves him a little, too. We don't always love who we should, y'know? [cf. A Life of Maury D'Annato: Volumes 4-17]
And so to Rigoletto, and the Duke. So much fucked up royalty, so often. The Duke is a beast but he needn't be that and nothing more. It's a harder sell, because long about the quartet, he's pretty much up in Maddalena's bidness, but it sure makes his duet with Gilda more exciting, and if you ask me, no musico-fictional figment could emit the musical line of "Addio, addio! Speranza ed anima!" with nothing but a good blowjob in mind. (I hokked the same chainik about Cosi some postings back: Il Core vi Dono is either a little bit serious or it's crap.) By the same token, I think Gilda is a little less, well, Sutherlandy if she's not carved out of soap. You could imagine, if you tried, that Trebs' Gilda wanted to get her rocks off once she figured out that papi and Giovanna weren't the only possible people she could be hanging out with, right? Embodiments of Platonic Love don't have such good makeup.
So I'm not saying every Rigoletto henceforth should sing La Donna with a quizzical look of self doubt or anything. I'm just thinking if the character is well drawn elsewhere, it won't be an anthem of awfulness, but rather might have a shading of sad irony to it that is in line with our conflicted inability to deny that it's irresistably, in the words of A-sung, jaunty.