The Rigors of Rigoletto (and other arts)

Previously published as part of “Here’s to the Good Life!” a weekly column in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.

On October 25 and 27, Opera Modesto will present the Guiseppe Verdi’s masterpiece Rigoletto to enthusiastic Gallo Center audiences. Like many classic operas, the tragic story centers around a licentious noble (the Duke of Mantua), a character with some deformity (the Duke’s court jester, a hunchbacked Rigoletto) and a beautiful woman (Rigoletto’s daughter Gilda). Opera Modesto brings back to the stage local favorites like Artistic and Creative Director Roy Stevens to play Rigoletto.

Roy Stevens as Rigoletto, Slovenian National Opera, who will star as Rigoletto for Opera Modesto
Roy Stevens as Rigoletto, Slovenian National Opera

In a continued spirit of collaboration Opera Modesto welcomes Victor Starsky of New York to sing the role of the Duke and Maya Kherani from San Francisco to performing as Gilda; and shines the spotlight on local rising stars making their operatic debuts: Amelia Schmidt of Oakdale as Contessa Ceprano; Summer Opera Institute teen performer Elizabeth Barton as the Paggio; and Kristina Townsend Memorial Competition award winner, Christopher Rodriguez (Fresno State) as the Ufficiale. 

Age-old truths come to life through opera: an avenue that combines the arts uniquely and boldly through costume design (visual arts), stage direction and acting, vocal performance, instrumental performance, and storytelling. According to Joseph Pearce, author, literature scholar and Director of the Center for Faith and Culture at Aquinas College in Nashville, Tennessee, stories are interesting because people are interesting. “They relate lessons, insights, and experiences better than a straight presentation of the facts. Someone may be nodding along with a story when they’d be nodding off at a sermon.”

In their best works, storytellers like Shakespeare take the reader the outer rim of what language can do. They impress connoisseurs with their mastery. Opera does this with vocal performance. I have seen crowds go mad over 5-minute drum solos and long-held notes by country music singers. To see the repeated and taxing effort of an opera performer hold not one note but sing an entire aria without a microphone, traveling the vast range of human vocal potential, is spellbinding. 

We love to watch human feats. Being both spiritual and material beings, these feats act as a demonstration of the power of the will to push the body. The arts (visual, performance, written or craft) point us to the immaterial of man when a common physical or cognitive ability evolves to something beautiful.

Beauty, simply put by Thomas Aquinas, is that which, when seen, pleases. It shows the best of the object. One can use a voice to shout obscenities or harmonize. One can punch a wall or perform a fouette. I can text “wher u at” or transcribe a sonnet in calligraphy. We can profess “it all goes to the same place” or take a multi-course meal in its time savoring flavors that need not be exotic but simply bring out the goodness and quality of local cuisine. 

Every human action has this potential. We are physical, thinking and feeling beings, and every type of action can become an art form, performed with rhythm, apparent ease, style and flourish. 

It looks easy. Yet, the artist will tell you, the very best work comes only with difficulty. “Learning isn’t supposed to be fun, it’s work,” my college professor expounded in his disinterest in the style of education that serves the pleasure rather than the discipline of the child.

The goal of these arts, whether woodworking, poetry recitation, or football drills, aims at the same– not merely task completion, but to do so well and with mastery. 

This the potential of human nature more than other (irrational) animals. We have minds that can do, train and then with all the skills in hand, begin to practice the art – the part that feels, that requires intuition, saying, “I just knew it would work.”

Each has his art and not every art fits the standard description of “the arts.” We are all artists who must find that area that will speak to the soul and expand the mind, push the body, and reward not only the self but those who witness it. 

For my part, I look forward to once again, seeing this act in operatic form this month at “Rigoletto” at the Gallo Center in Modesto. For more information, visit www.operamodesto.org.

Rigoletto teaser poster

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