'Rigoletto' adaptation draws inspiration from college, community

Oswego Opera Theatre’s reimagined “Rigoletto,” Feb. 21 and 23 at SUNY Oswego’s Waterman Theatre, shows the many ties of college and community, from plot to people.

“Rigoletto—The Oswego Story,” a rewrite of Verdi’s classic opera by SUNY Oswego adjunct instructor Mack Richardson of the music department, will take the Tyler Hall stage at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 21, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 23.

“I was inspired by two things,” said Richardson, artistic director and conductor of Oswego Opera Theatre since 2008. “First, I was interested in how the Metropolitan Opera reset ‘Rigoletto’ in Las Vegas in the 1960s. I like how it worked—they updated it quite reasonably. Of course, it takes on timeless ideas.

“And I wanted to try an audience-building marketing idea. Apparently, it has worked because it’s gotten a lot of attention.”

Rather than the original Mantua, Italy, Richardson sets his adaptation of Giuseppe Verdi’s 1851 opera “Rigoletto” in 1920s Oswego, where workarounds to Prohibition are in full bloom and the womanizing Duke of Mantua becomes Duke, the womanizing and personally and politically connected owner of a speakeasy.

In this reimagining, Duke pretends to be a SUNY Oswego college student to woo love interests on campus.

‘Great fun’

While Duke (Jonathan Howell) headlines at his own club, Verdi’s tragic court jester becomes, in the adaptation, Rigoletto the Don Rickles-like comic (Jimi James), hated by everyone for his vicious insult-jokes.

While sung in Italian, the opera will offer a projected image of Richardson’s translation of the lyrics to English. The orchestra features members of Syracuse’s Symphoria.

Richardson said stage director Fred Willard and the cast have embraced the remake of “Rigoletto,” which began life in the mid-19th century as an initially censored and then wildly popular opera.

“Fred very willingly agreed to take on the idea and is having great fun with it,” said Richardson, who is teaching “Introduction to the Worlds of Music” and “The Business of Music” at the college this semester.

Richardson said he came up with the idea for the “Rigoletto” adaptation about a year ago, but has been familiar with the opera since high school. With bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and master’s in orchestral conducting and arts administration from the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music, he has led productions of Mozart’s “The Impresario,” Gilbert and Sullivan’s “HMS Pinafore,” Lerner and Loewe’s “My Fair Lady,” Bizet’s “Carmen,” and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The Sound of Music” and “Carousel,” among others.

As with many community productions, town and gown members work together in the cast and crew. Jonathan Powers, a recent SUNY Oswego graduate, will sing the part of Ceprano, one of the men loyal to Duke. Oswego graduate Dan Williams will serve as chorus director. Suzayn MacKenzie-Roy, an alumna who is facilities manager for Waterman Theatre, will deploy the crew for “Rigoletto—The Oswego Story,” according to Richardson.

Other key roles include Gilda (Tatiana Poletskaya) and Maddalena (Danan Tsan).

Tickets for “Rigoletto—The Oswego Story” are $25 ($20 for educators and for seniors over 60; $5 for students) and are available at all SUNY Oswego box offices, online at tickets.oswego.edu or by calling 315-312-2141.

Parking for these performances is included in the ticket price, and is available in the lot in front of Culkin Hall, the rear half of the lot behind Hart and Funnelle halls or in the adjacent commuter lot.

Patrons with disabilities should call 315-312-2141 for assistance in advance of the performances.

(Posted: Feb 12, 2014)

Tags: rigoletto, oswego opera theatre, mack richardson