Now in its 40th season, Opera San Jose is presenting Giuseppe Verdi’s timeless classic Rigoletto this month and next. This story of a hunchbacked jester who plots revenge after his daughter Gilda is seduced by the Duke of Mantua includes some of opera’s most memorable arias. Performances will take place at the California Theatre in San Jose from Feb. 17 – March 3.
Director Dan Wallace Miller and conductor Jorge Parodi are both making debuts with Opera San Jose, and the cast includes baritone Eugene Brancoveanu as Rigoletto, soprano Melissa Sondhi as Gilda, and tenor Edward Graves as the Duke of Mantua. Graves is not only making his debut with the company but taking on this role for the first time.
Originally from Oxon Hill, Maryland, Graves always loved singing and began voice and piano lessons at the age of 9. When he was 14, he participated in a county-level solo and ensemble festival, for which he had to sing an Italian art song from memory, his first exposure to classical vocal music. The tenor went to Towson University in Maryland and then entered the Merola Opera Program, followed by two years as an Adler Fellow with San Francisco Opera, during which he played Amadou in the company premiere of Omar.
Graves said that working with Opera San Jose has been a good experience so far, though he was reluctant at first to take on the role of the Duke.
“I’ll admit that when I was first presented with the opportunity, I was a bit hesitant to take it because I thought that it was not quite the right vocal fit,” the tenor explained. “There are actually some very difficult moments vocally — it sits quite high in a lot of places, and I didn’t know if this was the best idea post-Adler, but as I’ve been singing through it, I realized that it is quite a good fit.”
Regarding the role itself, Graves stated, “This character is a villain. He is a womanizer, and he is entitled, and it’s very interesting how easy it is for me to tap into that. It’s not my personality, but it’s kind of fun to play someone that is so unlike me and finding different layers throughout the rehearsal process.”
Graves said that his task in rehearsing the Duke’s arias has been to make the role his own and sing it with his voice. “I have to figure out what the text means for me, and I have to choose how I want to interpret it,” he explained. “I come to the rehearsals with my own ideas, and in collaboration with the director and the conductor, we come to an agreement about tempo, where we would like to take a little more time, and what we would like to emphasize.”
Director Miller comments, “I’ve worked with Edward Graves on several productions, but this process has by far been the most enjoyable. Rigoletto is a dramatic and tragic story in the best of times, but reexamining its narrative in the context of our modern world means reinterpreting traditional portrayals of its main players. Working with Edward, the character of the Duke has become a true and chilling depiction of the corruption of power and the horrors that unlimited desire and unassailable control can wreak upon those held under that power. Being able to command this sinister performance while singing some of the most beautiful and delicate music in the operatic canon is something Edward excels at amazingly.”
Directing at Opera San Jose has been a “collaborative delight,” said Miller. “The environment is supportive, the patrons eager for fresh and intriguing takes on the formidable classics of the opera canon, and General Director Shawna Lucey’s vision for the company is one that resonates profoundly with my own hopes for the art form: Opera is invigorating, inclusive, and fun. I very much look forward to celebrating Opera San Jose’s 40th birthday with my fellow patrons on opening night of Rigoletto.”