Louis C.K. has returned to stand-up in New York, and Garrison Keillor is back on the road with a new show. Mario Batali has planned "several" return strategies, as has Charlie Rose. The President of the United States is still the President of the United States, and Brett Kavanaugh sits on the Supreme Court.
In short, the powerful men charged with sexual assault in the #MeToo era are doing just fine. Seattle Opera's production of Giuseppe Verdi's Rigoletto is here to show us it was ever thus, and that it shall ever be so long as we continue to uphold longstanding social and political norms around consent, harassment, and male power.
Rigoletto is a classic opera based on a Victor Hugo play called Le roi s'amuse. The story follows the Duke of Mantua on his various sexual conquests. He loves cuckolding courtiers while his court jester, Rigoletto, mocks the cucks. But shit hits the fan when the Duke goes after Rigoletto's own daughter, Gilda. Because the courtiers all hate Rigoletto, they end up helping the Duke successfully seduce her. To exact revenge, Rigoletto puts out a hit on the Duke, but it all goes horribly wrong.
The story is very male dominated, with a chorus of only men and a cast that includes only a few women characters, "none of whom have much in the way of what we now call 'agency,'" says Lindy Hume, who is directing this production.
"That's as written by Hugo and animated by Verdi," Hume added. "You can see how there's a real power imbalance, and a real sense that women don't have much of a role to play in this society, and even if they did no one would listen to them."
Hume updates Verdi's opera by replacing jolly old misogynists in cod pieces with men in suits in executive offices, calling greater attention to the violence against women and the power imbalance. The aesthetics and tone of Hume's production, she says, were inspired by Silvio Berlusconi's "bunga bunga" sex parties, which were detailed by national outlets in 2013.
One of Rigoletto's major numbers, "La donna è mobile (Woman is Fickle)"—which Opera Wire called "arguably the most misogynistic piece in all of opera"—is ubiquitous in popular culture. Doritos used it in a Super Bowl commercial. Alvin and the Chipmunks recorded a version. And TV producers generally use the jaunty melody when they need a shorthand for classical music. The beauty and catchiness of the melody is Verdi's way of showing the audience how easy it is to just go along with the Duke's worldview, how easy it is to be seduced by power.
"The Duke sails off into the sunset, completely oblivious of the wreckage he's made of Rigoletto's life," Hume said. "And that's kind of the point. It goes unpunished. There is no revenge, there's only a failed attempt at revenge. The world keeps turning in the merry way that it has for the Duke, and it's hard to know what's been gained."