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Winston-Salem hosts famous opera

On Oct. 27, the Piedmont Opera presented the last of three performances of Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto in downtown Winston-Salem. The Italian libretto, or text of the opera, was written by Francesco Maria Piave. This three-act Italian opera, based on Victor Hugo’s play Le roi s’amuse, is full of action, drama and incredible musical talent. It was first performed on March 11, 1851 in Venice at the Teatro La Fenice.

Taking place in Mantua in the 16th century, the first scene opens up to a hall in the ducal palace. In this scene, all the main male characters are introduced — and so is the drama.

The Duke of Mantua expresses his love for all women and his strong feelings against monogamy, all while threatening Count Ceprano’s wife as a future victim of his. Rigoletto, the court jester, joins the Duke in mocking Ceprano. When Rigoletto pushes the joke too far, he is plotted against by the other men and, along with the Duke, is cursed by Count Monterone.

The real drama unfolds in the following scence when Rigoletto’s daughter, Gilda, is kidnapped and taken to the Duke’s palace. Rigoletto soon discovers the joke is on him, and makes it his mission and life purpose to save his daughter and seek revenge.

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The plotting between characters, the desire for revenge, the “love” between the characters and the curse all give the opera its emotional turbulence and foreshadow the ending of the opera.

Verdi was the greatest Italian opera composer during the 19th century. His focus was on the human voice, which he never let the orchestra overshadow. The role of the orchestra in Verdi’s operas was to emphasize the actions and emotions of the characters. Verdi actually wrote the beautiful melodies and catchy tunes for the orchestra himself.

Rigoletto is one of Verdi’s greatest hits in the early 1850s. The composer channels his feelings about fatherhood in this opera as a result of his wife and two children of his first marriage dying.

The most famous and catchiest tune of the opera belongs to the aria “La donna è mobile,” sung by the Duke of Mantua. The title of the piece translates to “the woman is fickle” and occurs at the beginning of Act III, revealing the betrayal of the Duke’s supposed monogamous love for Gilda. The irony of the words sung by the Duke play into the confusion that grows until the end. The tune is repeated throughout the last act to reinforce the sense of confusion between all the characters and to reveal a heightened sense of drama.

The essence of an opera revolves around how the music adds into the simple plot and short sequence of events, drawing out the two to touch upon all the underlying human emotions. The opera was a total of three hours, but because the arias and recitatives were so emotionally provoking, there was never a dull moment.

The beautiful soprano voice of Gilda was complemented by the tenor voice of the duke and the baritone voice of Rigoletto. Not only did I leave the opera feeling entertained and emotionally exhausted, I also left with remnants of the chills from the quality and control of the singers.

There is always a greater message beneath all the superficial drama and entertainment of an opera or musical performance, and that is in the human emotion that is explored by the music and the visuals.

If you get the chance, explore the world of opera and what it can reveal to you. Downtown Winston-Salem houses many gifted artists, as well as some Wake Forest-featured musicians, such as assistant professor of flute Kathryn Levy, who performed with the orchestra in Rigoletto.

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