Changing the period of an opera designated by the composer is undertaken only after a lot of thought. At Seattle Opera we have never changed the period of an opera for any work that is set in time by its libretto. Der Rosenkavalier, for instance, is clearly at a specific time in 18th-century Vienna, and although many differ, I believe Tosca to be firmly set in 1800 Rome, simply because of the text.
Rigoletto is one opera, however, that could happen at any point in history. There is not a word in it that suggests Mantua in the sixteenth century. The only thing absolute about Rigoletto is that it is completely Italian. Jonathan Miller in the 1980s created the most successful production of this opera in many years, setting it in New York's Little Italy, which may not be Italy but the closest thing to it. This fall, Linda Brovsky is planning Rigoletto in Mantua, but it is the Mantua of Mussolini's time. The buildings are exactly what they would have been in a period piece; the costumes, very elegantly designed by Marie Anne Chiment, reflect that time period. What's the reason? Giving a new twist to a very familiar opera and illustrating the fact that all the emotions in Rigoletto—the lack of caring for others in the debonair Duke, the possessiveness and cruel tongue of Rigoletto, the innocence and infatuation of the teenage Gilda—are timeless and suit the twentieth century.
This 1930s setting offers another way to illustrate the freshness of Verdi's invention in this amazingly youthful opera, an opera so brimming with melody that almost every page remains in the mind's ear after only one hearing. So it was in 1851 at its Venetian premiere, and so it will be on October 16 at the premiere of Linda Brovsky's Seattle Opera production.