“La donna e mobile” is perhaps the most famous single piece in all of opera, despite the fact that it is frequently presented out of context. The tune, a bouncy aria performed by the Duke in Giuseppe Verdi’s masterpiece Rigoletto, has been utilized in everything from movies to spaghetti commercials. But within the original show, its performance underscores tragedy and how the pursuit of vengeance can be destructive.
Even people who have never seen an opera can hum along to those famous bars, which demonstrates how deeply Rigoletto is embedded in our culture, more than 150 years after its initial performance. “I guarantee that when people come to the opera and hear this piece, they’ll say, ‘I know this music!'” said James Meena, principal artistic advisor of the Toledo Opera.
First time in a decade
Meena will be conducting Rigoletto at the Valentine Theatre Friday, January 26 and Sunday, January 28, featuring the Toledo Symphony Orchestra and the Toledo Opera Chorus, the first time in a decade that Verdi’s piece will be performed in the Glass City, which Meena says has excited a lot of area fans.
“Opera-goers like to be adventurous. They’ll come out and hear a new piece,” Meena said. “But at the end of the day, they like their meat-and-potatoes operas. They want to hear Rigoletto, or La Boheme. And that’s the fun thing about the opera house, is that we are recreating these great masterpieces. So even though an audience member may have seen La Boheme or Madame Butterfly 20 times, every time it’s different.”
This particular production has an impressive pedigree— the sets, costumes and staging originated with the Atlanta Opera. This past October, the show was performed in Grand Rapids, MI, and through an ongoing partnership with that company, the production is being put on in Toledo, with the central cast reprising their roles.
“This particular production of Rigoletto has a very strong perspective on the injustice of the nobility, and how they persecute Rigoletto, and by that persecution he makes terrible choices which end up in the demise of his daughter. So it’s a really strong production,” Meena said.
“That’s one of the great elements of classical art. These works are so strong, and so rich and so deep, that every interpretation— if it’s handled with respect and thoughtfully— can make sense, and enlighten the story even further.”
Opera for every generation
Meena, who estimates that he’s conducted Rigoletto over a dozen times in his career, said that his personal experience with the piece extends back to childhood. “My father used to play it on an eight-track player,” he said. “So the first time I heard Rigoletto I was a teenager, and I was taken immediately by the music.
“When you take a very human story like Rigoletto, and pair it with great music— very popular music that people know— you have a classic opera for every generation.”
Beyond taking the audience on an emotional journey, Meena wants area audiences to come from Rigoletto being proud of their community.
“The thing that I hope audiences would walk away with is a sense of pride, that we are able to present an exceptional production in the great Valentine Theatre, that they then can be proud of their city and their opera company, that would accomplish something significant.”
Student Night at the Opera: 7pm on Wednesday, January 24.
7:30pm on Friday, January 26. 2pm on Sunday, January 28.
The Valentine Theatre, 410 Adams St.