Giuseppe Verdi composed “Rigoletto” in six weeks and considered it the best music he ever wrote. Based on a story by Victor Hugo, the opera is a story of revenge gone wrong, without a single blameless character. It was a spectacular success and has remained so ever since.

Artistic director Dona D. Vaughn has moved the action in PORTopera’s 20th-anniversary production (July 23 and 25 at Merrill Auditorium) from 16th-Century Mantua to the United States during the Roaring ’20s, where a duke surrounded by servile courtiers seems like a family gathering of the Mafia in a somewhat surrealistic setting.

The idea is along the lines of Mark Twain’s observation that aristocracy is the biggest racket ever imposed upon mankind.

Vaughn is known for her new takes on operatic characters such as Cio-Cio San in “Madama Butterfly” and Mimi in “La Bohème.” Rigoletto is no exception. Rather than a buffoon, for which there is little evidence in the libretto, she sees him as a consigliore under the protection of the Duke of Mantua, which enables him to offend other courtiers at will, without fear of reprisal.

He seems more vicious than laughable. Otherwise, why would Count Monterone bother to lay a very effective curse upon him? And he is certainly not without power. In fact, that is what drives the action of the opera.

PORTopera has produced “Rigoletto” once before, in 2000, but Vaughn wanted to stage something special for the company’s 20th anniversary. ” ‘Rigoletto’ has everything, especially for first-time opera goers,” she said, including one of the best-known arias of all time, “La Donna e Mobile.” There is tragedy, pathos, violence – all in a relatively short three acts. It also has a dashing rake, in the form of the Duke (who sings the famous aria), and unlike Don Juan, he gets away with it. Tenor Anthony Kalil will sing that role.

The opera will be sung in Italian, with English supertitles. I hope they use the script from the 2000 production, which was much more thoughtful than such translations usually are.

“Rigoletto” will be conducted by Stephen Lord, whom audiences will remember for his brilliant work in PORTopera’s “Madama Butterfly” in 2012.

Baritone Weston Hurt, who sang the role of Peter in the 2010 production of “Hansel and Gretel,” will play Rigoletto. Korean soprano Hae Ji Chang appears as Gilda, Rigoletto’s fated daughter. Bass Soloman Howard, who sang the role of the Bonze in PORTopera’s “Madama Butterfly,” will be the assassin Sparafucile. His sister, Maddelena, will be sung by mezzo-soprano Christin-Marie Hill.

Vaughn points out that there are few minor roles in “Rigoletto.” For example, Maddalena, while entertaining the duke, must sing in the famous quartet “Un di, se ben rammentomi” with him, Gilda and Rigoletto, and finally engage in a dramatic trio with her brother and Gilda.

With the fact in mind that all operas end badly, and this one very badly, the new production promises to be a lot of fun as well as a musical enchantment.

Christopher Hyde is a writer and musician who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

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