Is Rigoletto really about Donald Trump?

Is Rigoletto really about Donald Trump?


norman lebrecht

July 02, 2019

Seatlle Opera is about to stage Verdi’s Rigoletto as a contemporary political parable.

From the press release:

For years, Lindy Hume, stage director of Seattle Opera’s August production of Rigoletto, has been frustrated by the way opera celebrates misogyny through its “bad boy” characters… ‘In 2019, if opera aspires to be a future-focused art form, then it must evolve and be responsive to a changing society… This history of telling stories about women being raped, murdered, and abused in opera is right there in front of us, either to explore, or to ignore.’

Hume says, Rigoletto ‘is not explicitly Trump’s America, or Berlusconi’s Italy, but a modern, highly recognizable version of the dystopian, brutal, corrupt society Victor Hugo and Verdi imagined. As a feminist and a fan of Verdi’s wonderful observation of human behavior, how could I resist bringing these worlds together in an imagined scenario where the excesses of obscene wealth, the corruption of high political power, and the moral void of the upper class, all vibrate with an undercurrent of fear, violence, misogyny, and criminality? This is the world of Verdi’s Rigoletto, and our own.’


  • Bob Boles says:

    Jolly good, Lindy. Jonathan Miller said this all 30 years ago in his ‘Little Italy’ production of Rigoletto for English National Opera in London – which was even toured to NYC and Houston. But you are absolutely right – when opera just becomes a museum-piece in wigs and petticoats, its reason for existence ceases.

    • Adrienne says:

      Agree completely.

      Every time I go to the Louvre or the Prado, the paintings look exactly the same. Boring.

      They should be touched up or painted over on a regular basis to keep them relevant, and to stop them looking like museum pieces.

      Perhaps Peter Sellars could advise.

      • Bob Boles says:

        The difference, Adrienne, is that the Louvre and the Prado declare themselves to be *museums*. No opera theatre ought to be a museum. Perhaps David McVicar could advise.

      • Caravaggio says:

        Wrong. Nothing at all boring about the collections at the Louvre or the Prado or elsewhere. If anything, these masterpieces are more and more relevant to us for many reasons, not least lost craftsmanship. Think about it.

        • Adrienne says:

          Oh dear Caravaggio, I think you missed the point.

          And Bogda, just because you can change it every night, it doesn’t mean you should. Especially when the change is in the hands of pseudo-intellectual directors trying to promote their otherwise worthless careers on the backs of Mozart, Verdi etc

          • Robert Groen says:

            You don’t half fancy yourself, do you Adrienne? Pseudo-intellectual directors, worthless careers….oh dear Caravaggio….. who the hell are you?

          • Bogda says:

            What you clearly didnt get from my post is that live performance is always different, every single night. Even if you have same singers, conductor, orchestra, sets. chorus, its just never the same.If anything audience os different, temperature is different, feelings are different, and performance ends up always being different. That is why by definition you cannot preserve opera as a museum piece. It exists only in the moment it is being performed.
            And also opera by definition is not musical text written by composer, but a theatrical piece, which requires, musicians, conductors and singers, set designers, costume designers, directors, choreographers etc. Without them there is no opera as well. And all of them might have something to add to the piece and tell to the audience. Its a collective piece of art. And also by definition, every time different creative people meet there will be different outcome

        • John R says:

          Hers was sarcasm, I think.
          And, you are both in agreement.

      • Bogda says:

        Comparison with paintings in a museum shows your misunderstanding of what opera actually is (and unfortunately not only your). Opera is a theatrical art form and as such exists only in that very moment it is being performed on stage. There is by definition nothing constant about opera, as very single night it’s different. It can never look the same. Only thing that can look the same is the autograph.
        Every time you see Hamlet in theater do you expect it to be the same?! So why would Opera be the same?

        • Bob Boles says:

          Bravo! Too hard for Adrienne to understand, though.

        • John R says:

          The idea of “definition” is the sticky point.
          We have two definitions of Opera:

          1) Opera is primarily Singing and instrumental composition, or

          2) All elements are equal: Singing, “Music”, Storyline/Staging, Set Design & Costumes,
          (Choreography, when dance is present.)

          For me, it’s the audible elements that must take STRONG precedence. The rest is ancillary, to aid the music (voice and instrumental). If storyline staging distracts from that, it is detrimental to the art; singing technique fades, melody fades in favor of “text” (story, or even, distorted story, as per an individual stage director), etc. boring compositions.

          If singing technique degenerates due to lack of interest, you have….(gasp)
          Performance Art–if you’re lucky!

        • BrianB says:

          No, but it should be something the creator would recognize as his own. Peter Maxwell Davies gave up writing opera in disgust at the perversions of his intentions. (He meant it to be a lighthouse and nothing and nowhere else).

      • Robert Groen says:

        So why do you keep going to the Louvre and the Prado? To me (but I could be wrong) you’re nothing but a nutter saying outrageous things just to get noticed. Well, I’ve noticed you and I wish I hadn’t. If you are the future and I’m the past, I’ll stay where I am.

    • BrianB says:

      …and great music portraying real human emotions be damned. Put it all on the Index. When do the score burning parties start?

  • John Niles says:

    I recently saw a production of Der Rosenkavalier where Baron Ochs was definitely costumed and made up to look like Donald Trump complete with the too long red tie. The audience–a German one (!)–loved it and applauded very enthusiastically.

  • The View from America says:

    “Is Rigoletto really about Donald Trump?”

    No. But perhaps Donald Trip is about Rigoletto.

  • Brian says:

    Peter Sellars staged a Marriage of Figaro set in Trump Tower back in the 80s.

    Theater troupes routinely update Shakespeare to contemporary settings. There’s no reason why the same approach shouldn’t work with opera.

    • Andrew says:

      The Shakespeare updates don’t usually work either. Most of them are gimmicky, contrived and obvious.

      • Me says:

        And most of the standard boilerplate productions are stale and lifeless. The issue isn’t updating or not. It’s just execution.

  • Andrew says:

    Pointless “woke” gesturing as usual. These contemporary reinterpretations are almost always naff.

  • Escamillo says:

    Not interesting, just dumb.

  • Cantantelirico says:

    Why on earth would anyone laud a prick who would just as well see the end of all art forms in The Unites States? This is nothing more than a low rent approach to what can now be referred to as Amera-Trash. That asshat is everywhere you turn. Can we not at the very least go to the opera to escape him? Shame on Seattle Opera for allowing that pap on their stage!!

  • Ms. Melody says:

    Poor Verdi, poor Hugo… Both in the public domain and unprotected from regular debasement and mutilation by the rabid and talentless morons and perverts incapable of producing anything original of artistic or esthetic value. And they are supported by public taxes. Sad.

  • Yes Addison says:

    Where I disagree with her is that I cannot recall a perception that even the dullest traditional production celebrated a character like the Duke of Mantua. Gilda’s continuing devotion to him is supposed to make us sad or angry, because he isn’t worthy of it. Most people think Pinkerton is a louse too. We’re led to form that opinion by things he says to Sharpless before Cio-Cio San even makes her first entrance.

    What people celebrate is the great singers who appear in those roles, and the music written for them, not necessarily the “bad boy” characters on the page. We celebrated Caruso, Bergonzi, Pavarotti or Alfredo Kraus. If there was charm to what they did, that only made the story more plausible.

  • The View from America says:


  • YS says:

    That cannot be true, really

    It is difficult enough to know, he is existing and acting in real life in such a major position.

    But in an Opera?

    But not as Rigoletto.

    Scarpia, I would love to be his murderer as Tosca, Y E S

    Don Pizzaro in Fidelio

    But not in Rigoletto as Rigoletto….

    Rigoletto loves his daughter, his soul is empathetic..

    • Yes Addison says:

      Bieito did a Scarpia-as-Trump production for Den Norske Opera.

    • Perry T says:

      We’re discussing the Duke of Mantua, a character IN Rigoletto, not Rigoletto himself, though this jester isn’t exactly a paragon as a parent.

  • DeepSouthSenior says:

    ” . . . the excesses of obscene wealth, the corruption of high political power, and the moral void of the upper class, all vibrate with an undercurrent of fear, violence, misogyny, and criminality . . .”

    So, it’s about the Soviet Union, c. 1950?

    • The View from America says:

      Sure, why not?

      Or about the Vatican … or the Medicis … or the Eagle’s Nest … or Pyongyang … or the Caliphate … or the Rothschilds … or La Cosa Nostra … or …

  • gareth says:

    Rigoletto? Hmm… Donald Hump, surely?

  • ThrownOutOfTheKremlinForSinging says:

    A Verdi opera about Donald Trump? It’s already been done, more than half a century ago. Look at this: from 1965. It’s uncanny. Is it Sir John Falstaff, or is it President Donald Trump???

  • Adam Stern says:

    I’ve posted this quote before, and it looks like it’s due for another airing:

    “…the ‘producer’s (or ‘stage director’s’ or ‘régisseur’s’) opera’…[has] led to other excesses, principal of which was the restless search for novel dramatic interpretation. This all too often deprives our present-day productions of the sense and meaning intended by the composer, and leaves the producer open to the suspicion of being insufficiently prepared, insufficiently familiar with the material with which he is working, and – most important of all – insufficiently sensitive to the one essential component of music drama, namely the music. Artificial originality smells worse than stinking fish.”

    – Antal Doráti

    • BrianB says:

      Peter Maxwell Davies, in a late interview in Opera News, said he had given up writing operas in disgust at the continual misinterpretations of what he intended. When he set something in a lighthouse, he MEANT a lighthouse. And he was a living composer with copyright protection.
      “Blessed are the arts that can survive without the aid of interpreters.”–Arrigo Boito
      Oft quoted by Toscanini, who said of the Eroica, “Is not Napoleon, is not Hitler, is not Mussolini, is Allegro con brio!”

  • Karl says:

    Rued Langgaard wrote an opera called Antichrist. I wonder if someone will revive that and make it about Trump.

  • Robert Groen says:

    OK, I’m calling this a day. Before I leave, though: let’s have this whole discussion again, only this time not with Trump at the centre but, say, John F. Kennedy. Looking forward to that….there must be an opera covering that story…

  • Bill says:

    I think a production where the clown gets stabbed and stuffed in the sack would be popular!

  • Greg Bottini says:

    The one wonderful thing about Donald J. Trump (45th President of The United States, leader of the Free World, finger on the nuclear button) is his obviousness.
    He has no Carterian humanity.
    He has no Nixonian guile.
    He has no Johnsonian mastery of politics.
    He has no glorious Kennedan way with words.
    He has no Eisenhowerian practicality.
    He has no Trumanian basic horse-sense.
    Donald J. Trump has no knowledge of how a democratic government is supposed to work, and he has no interest in learning how it is supposed to work.
    He has no knowledge of world diplomacy, and he has no interest about learning about world diplomacy.
    He has no knowledge about domestic affairs and how they directly affect the lives of the people living in The United States, and he has no interest in learning about them.
    His various Twitter and verbal pronouncements are all bluster, obfuscation, and self-aggrandizement.
    What DOES he offer?
    His obviousness.
    He tell us exactly who he is every day, and sometimes many times in a day.
    He is there, right in our faces, for all of us to see.

    If only we could all see it.

  • Monsoon says:

    A man who uses his power to get away with sexual assaulting women – sounds a lot like Trump.

    Did it ever occur to people who despise modern productions of operas that operas were often set in the past (relative to the year when they premiered) so that the composer and librettist could obfuscate themes and plot points that would get them in trouble with the censors? When everyone on stage is wearing a ruff (that thing around the neck), small minded people get distracted from the fact that the characters are talking about rape.