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Published15 Feb 2022

Opera returns to the Academy of Music for the first time in nearly three years with four performances of Verdi’s unforgettable tragedy, Rigoletto (April 29-May 8)

Opera Philadelphia returns to the Academy of Music stage for the first time since September 2019 (942 days) with four performances of Rigoletto from April 29-May 8. Long one of the most popular works in the operatic canon, Verdi’s unforgettable tragedy has not been performed by Opera Philadelphia in 15 years, making this new production an extra special event on the region’s spring performing arts calendar.

Adding to the excitement of the new production is a cast of rising opera stars making their Opera Philadelphia debuts in Rigoletto. Baritone Anthony Clark Evans, lauded for his “stentorian Verdi style” by the Chicago Tribune and as “warm-toned, vivacious and humane” by the San Francisco Chronicle, makes his company debut in the title role of the Duke’s jester Rigoletto. British-American tenor Joshua Blue makes his company and role debuts as the philandering Duke of Mantua, fresh off appearances as Peter in The Gershwins’ Porgy & Bess. Baltimore-born soprano Raven McMillon, a winner in the 2021 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, makes in her company and role debuts as Gilda, Rigoletto’s daughter. McMillon, whose 2021-2022 season featured a star-making turn as Peter in the world premiere of Joel Thompson’s The Snowy Day with Houston Grand Opera, was recently named one of the 22 stars to watch in 2022 by the Washington Post.

Grammy Award-winning bass Wei Wu, hailed as “a magnificent presence as Kobun” (San Francisco Chronicle) in the world premiere of Mason Bates and Mark Campbell’s The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs, debuts as Sparafucile, while mezzo-soprano Kristen Choi, who dazzles in the commission TakTakShoo by Rene Orth and Kanika Ambrose now streaming on the Opera Philadelphia Channel, makes her company stage debut as Maddalena.

“The 2021-2022 season has been a journey towards returning to a new normal at Opera Philadelphia, as we get back to bringing audiences and artists together for live performances while also integrating cinematic work into our ongoing exploration of the future of opera,” said David B. Devan, General Director & President of Opera Philadelphia. “This return to the Academy of Music for the first time in nearly three years feels like a huge milestone moment for us, following performances at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts, Verizon Hall, and streaming on the Opera Philadelphia Channel. It will feel good to be back on our home stage, with Maestro Corrado Rovaris leading the Opera Philadelphia Orchestra and Chorus and an exciting cast of singers.”

Rigoletto is a court jester to the Duke of Mantua, a notorious sexual abuser. After the Duke harms a young woman, Rigoletto mocks the victim’s father, who then curses the jester for being so heartless. Later, the Duke rapes Rigoletto’s own daughter, Gilda, and the cruel joke falls on Rigoletto. Basing his opera off Victor Hugo’s play Le roi s’amuse, Verdi composed Rigoletto as a confrontation to authority and as a means of illuminating abuse of power. The opera features several well-known arias, including Rigoletto’s passionate denouncement “Cortigiani, vil razza dannata,” Gilda’s dreamy “Caro nome,” and the Duke’s instantly recognizable “La donna è mobile.”

In a timely production from New Zealand Opera, director Lindy Hume offers no mercy for powerful men who abuse women and confronts newsmakers of today with her interpretation of Verdi’s classic. Hume has been frustrated by traditional opera’s tendency to celebrate misogyny through its “bad boy” characters. In beloved works such as Don GiovanniCarmen, and Tosca, sopranos must rehearse how to fall, how to be stabbed, brutalized, and thrown across the room, behaviors they would never accept in real life.

“If opera aspires to be a future-focused art form, then it must evolve and be responsive to a changing society,” Hume says. “This history of telling stories about women being raped, murdered, and abused in opera is right there in front of us, either to explore, or to ignore.”

When the stage director created the production for New Zealand Opera in 2012, former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was breezing through a high-profile sex trial. Back then, Hume found inspiration in the controversial billionaire and politician for the Duke of Mantua; Hume’s production is in fact set at the “presidential palace” on election night. Now, presenting this piece for American audiences, Hume acknowledges some may find a similarity between the Duke and certain U.S. politicians.

Verdi’s Rigoletto
Friday, April 29, 8:00 p.m.
Sunday, May 1, 2:00 p.m.
Friday, May 6, 8:00 p.m.
Sunday, May 8, 2:00 p.m.
Academy of Music
operaphila.org | 215.732.8400

About Opera Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia,
 the only American finalist for both the 2016 International Opera Award for Best Opera Company and the 2020 International Opera Award for Best Festival, is “the very model of a modern opera company” (Washington Post). Committed to developing opera for the 21st century, the company is recognized as “a hotbed of operatic innovation” (New York Times). For more information, visit operaphila.org.

The Opera Philadelphia Channel creates a digital space in which artists can perform and explore, through a series of new commissions by visionary composers and dynamic performances produced for the screen. Annual subscriptions priced at $99 are offered along with pay-per-view rental options for individual performances. The channel is available for viewing on computers and mobile devices, and on TV screens via Chromecast and the Opera Philadelphia Channel app on AppleTV, Android TV, Roku, and Amazon FireTV. For more information, visit operaphila.tv.

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