First Nighter: Michael Mayer's Casually Histrionic Take on Verdi's Rigoletto Back at the Met

Michael Mayer's updating Giuseppe Verdi's Rigoletto in a more or less contemporary Las Vegas setting of Christine Jones's devising -- with neon galore that lighting designer Kevin Adams has fun with (particularly during the stormy fourth act) -- lends the histrionic drama an alluring air of 21st-century off-handedness.

For instance, when the Duke (Stephen Costello in costume designer Susan Hilferty's white tuxedo) opens proceedings with "Questa o quella," that description of his relationship with the ladies is as casual a throwaway commentary as it's ever been.

Likewise, when the Duke gets to "La donna e mobile" -- on which he warbles about women being fickle when all along he's the fickle one -- he winds himself around a pole that only minutes before had been vacated by a pole dancer. During the sequence, he also removes his tux jacket and tosses it aside -- and this in a production where director Michael Mayer has several characters take off and replace their jackets constantly.

Indeed, Costello may be singing quite persuasively throughout and with admirable control, but he's often doing so with his hands in his pockets. It's the very essence of a man so comfortable in his skin that nothing bothers him. It's the ease of a fellow who never realizes a hit man has been on his tail and has been talked out of it, leaving him to walk blithely into his future while repeating his belief that women are as unfaithful as the wind.

On the other hand, another of the jacket-discarders is Rigoletto (George Gagnidze), but there's nothing cavalier about his behavior. (Okay, maybe the red cardigan he sports is.) As Gagnidze plays and sings the man, he's the nervous wreck he always is. He repeatedly complains about always being played for a fool and, as always, gets himself in worse trouble for trying to overcome the indignity.

Gagnidze and Costello immeasurably help account for the sturdy Rigoletto revival of Mayer's 2013 production, which is again conducted by Pablo Heras-Casado, who isn't necessarily casual on the podium. He can be extremely impassioned. He certainly was when beginning the opening-night performance. Nevertheless, Verdi's endless supply of ravishing music sounded interruptedly fine.

Olga Peretyatko hits both Gilda's acting and vocal notes charmingly when Gilda is meant to be charming. "Cara nome" was properly realized, and much of it while Peteryatko was lying on her stomach with her upward bent legs swinging, as if she were a teenage girl writing in her diary.

Having characters singing in positions other than upright and downstage center is another of Mayer's signature directorial choices. A notable exception is Verdi's ravishing quarter in which Rigoletto, Gilda, the Duke and Maddalena (Katarina Leoson in an impressively sexy Met debut) do face boldly out as tradition dictates.

In a cast notable for the consistency of its strong singing -- and that includes Donald Palumbo's virile male chorus -- a particular standout is Stefan Kocan as hired killer Sparafucile. He's so authoritative in the role that almost anyone listening to him would welcome him as his or her assassin.