Mayer, making his opera debut, has a keen eye for detail. Gilda dabs tears from her father’s eyes and with an embarrassed look buttons the top of her dress as she speaks with her father. She clutches and smells the white coat the Duke leaves on his apartment floor. While nearly all the Duke’s buddies watch stone-faced as Rigoletto pleads, Marullo alone is disgusted, turns away and hangs his head.
Susan Hilferty’s costumes had the Duke looking dashing, Rigoletto frumpy and Gilda girlish. The supporting cast was top-notch, with Stefan Kocan a vocally and visually imposing Sparafucile and Maria Zifchak a spineless Giovanna. In their Met debuts, Robert Pomakov was a booming Monterone and Oksana Volkova a seductive Maddalena. Emalie Savoy, in a floor-length gown, was a standard for glamour as Countess Ceprano.
Conductor Michele Mariotti impressed, drawing color, energy and dynamics from the orchestra.
Mayer’s interjection of a half-naked stripper at the start of the third act was greeted with cheers — and then countered quickly by a few loud boos. His decision to have the sycophant group remain in the back of the Duke’s apartment in the shadows during Gilda’s confessional ‘‘Tutte le feste (Each holy day)’’ was jarring, and there the chorus remained through Damrau’s chilling high note that ended the ‘‘Si, vendetta’’ duet.
Marring the evening were gimmicky updated Met Titles by Michael Panayos and Paul Cremo. Mayer’s direction spoke for itself. No need for the chorus’ ‘‘Vittoria!’’ to become ‘‘Jackpot!’’ and Sparafucile’s ‘‘further on the stream is deeper’’ to be replaced by ‘‘it’s a long drive to the river. Make sure you have enough gas!’’ Some in the audience giggled.
There are seven more performances with this cast through Feb. 23, with the Feb. 16 matinee telecast to theaters around the world. It returns for six nights in April and May with different principal singers. It will be interesting to see how Mayer’s vision comes across with other casts.