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

Rigoletto teaser poster

Weekend Links 8.12.17


Nine snippets of news and novelties for your weekend musing.

Our life has been changed and our son’s life sustained by the incredible and collaborative care at UCSF. It is not surprising to me that they should rank so high in this national survey.

If this reporting is accurate, that is a wonderful example of how we need to give more credit to lower income families and how family truly forms the child. My question regarding the author’s way of presenting the research is this. The author reports pre-school enrollment dropped in 2008, likely due to parental unemployment. If that gap narrowed in school readiness, then wouldn’t that put more educated parents at home than before the rise in unemployment levels. I would like to see if we control for parent education levels if the results still remain. For a resource on providing more books at home, check out this project by Dolly Parton, the woman you naturally think of when you think of family life.

I was moved by this video of Jim Carrey (never thought I would write such a sentence! It was in the darkness of grief that I began to cling to beauty and art, which before had been a hobby and simple pleasure. The contemplation of beauty draws us out of ourselves. It is a great antidote to grief, loss or depression.


Gratitude is a powerful force for good, as this article illustrates. Would you consider ending each day with a moment of gratitude, considering three things you are thankful for? It can help us through dark times, balance our perspective, and overcome automatic negative thoughts.

I suspect objecting to this painting is a matter of Conservatives trying to get back at or making a point that if someone did a Christian parallel of the same thing, it would be publically unacceptable. On a deeper level, patriotism is a spiritual thing, the Statue of Liberty is one of our national symbols, as is the American flag. I do not believe these should be altered to express one person’s message. They are enough in themselves. We could also analyze that this doe-eyed lady is an exaggerated form of how women are distorted in media, and the strong stance with the torch is diminished by her gentle hold as if it were a bouquet of flowers.

No matter how busy life is, we really should make time for events like the solar eclipse on August 21. I hope we do in this household, though there are no plans as of yet.

Your words matter! I began to guard my grammar as my children grow. It takes practice, but we can do it. “Gonna” and pronouncing to as “ta” (If you’re going ta do this…”) are two habits my husband and I are currently trying to root out of our speech. I heard a song yesterday that rhymed over with you by pronouncing them as “ova” and “ya.” Brain cells have been lost by listening to music like this!

My reflection from this article on the reemergence of a vocational crisis: A priestly vocation requires heroism in a world such as ours. John Paul II inspired this heroism in the youth of the world and encouraged us to go all in. That is why my generation of Catholics is referred to as the John Paul II generation. We need inspiration from our leaders in the Church to “be not afraid” and “put out into the deep.” Too many times, to draw people into the church, leaders in parishes water things down, make it simpler, gentler. Our generation and the generation that follows ache for something to live for, for something strong we can hold on to in the moral chaos of our society. We need something to fight for. John Paul II and the priests of this generation show us that.

This is worth sharing since an American paper seemed to have picked up the original absurdity. I wonder Associatedsociate Press will be able to restore its credibility?