With rousing melodies like “La donna è mobile” and a plot that stirs the blood with thoughts of vengeance, “Rigoletto” is one of Giuseppe Verdi’s most memorable grand operas. And its story of a debased libertine who leaves broken hearts and devastated lives in his wake has great resonance in the #MeToo era.
The Lyric Opera of Kansas City will present “Rigoletto” for four performances beginning March 3 at the Muriel Kauffman Theatre.
Verdi once explained that the plot, based on Victor Hugo’s play “Le Roi s’amuse” (“The King Amuses Himself”), “is grand, immense, and there is a character that is one of the greatest creations that the theatre can boast of, in any country and in all history.” The character Verdi was referring to was the licentious, womanizing King Francis I of France.
Verdi was commissioned to write the opera for La Fenice theater in Venice, which was then controlled by Austria. But Hugo’s play was seen as anti-monarchical by the Austrian censors. Verdi worked with the censors point by point to come up with a compromise that included, among other things, changing the character of King Francis to the Duke of Mantua of the House of Gonzaga, an aristocratic family that was extinct by the middle of the 19th century.
The title character is one of the best-known in opera. Rigoletto is a hunchbacked jester who unwittingly helps the Duke abduct his beloved daughter, Gilda. Earlier in the opera, the sharp-tongued jester encourages the Duke’s seduction of the Countess Ceprano, and mockingly suggests the Duke imprison or kill her husband, Count Ceprano. Of course, karma catches up with Rigoletto in the end.
Mezzo-soprano Lauren Auge, a member of the Lyric Opera’s Resident Artists Program, will sing the role of Countess Ceprano.
“The Countess is almost a catalyst for setting the scene for how the Duke really treats women,” Auge said. “We’ve been talking a lot in rehearsals about how this is playing into the #MeToo movement. The Duke is a womanizer, and my character plays right into that very, very well. She ends up running off with the Duke for a little bit before coming back and being passed back to her husband.”
The Lyric’s Resident Artists Program is an opportunity for singers like Auge to spend intensive time with the company for a year, learning roles, working with guest conductors and directors, participating in master classes, receiving career coaching and performing in the Lyric’s Explorations Series, which features more intimate vocal works.
Auge, who came to Kansas City from Chicago, says she and her fellow resident artists are impressed by their time in Kansas City.
“I recently went to the Mitsuko Uchida concert (on the Harriman-Jewell Series),” she said. “It was stunning. I lived in Chicago for eight years, and she (Uchida) had been there a number of times, but I never had a chance to see her, so finally getting to see her in Kansas City was fantastic.
“None of us really knew much about Kansas City, but we’re all really surprised at the amount of art and music and performance that’s here and how much comes to town.”
Another important role for the Lyric’s resident artists is bringing opera to the wider community.
“We just did this program at the Nelson-Atkins that we called “Rigatoni to ‘Rigoletto,’ ” Auge said. “We sang opera arias and scenes that had also been used in commercials. Music from ‘Rigoletto’ is used so much. It is all over the place. People will assume they don’t know anything about opera, but then they realize they’ve actually heard a lot of this.
“ ‘Rigoletto’ hits all the high points and low points in opera. You have a soprano who dies. You have a soprano and a tenor fall in love. You have a weird, slightly evil baritone. And the mezzo’s there, too. It all works out.”
7:30 p.m. March 3, 7 and 9 and 2 p.m. March 11. Muriel Kauffman Theatre, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. $35.50-$185.50. 816-471-7344 or kcopera.org.
Celebrated soprano Kathleen Battle will make her fourth appearance on the Harriman-Jewell Series March 2 at Helzberg Hall. But this time she’s bringing a 29-voice choir for what promises to be a moving program, “Underground Railroad: A Spiritual Journey.”
Drawing on the writings of Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, the concert will use narration as well as music to tell the story of the network that helped African-American slaves escape to free states and Canada. The Underground Railroad has a significant local connection. The town of Quindaro (part of what is now Kansas City, Kan.) was an important station on the Underground Railroad, serving as a point of entry into the free state of Kansas.
When Battle, a five-time Grammy winner, recently performed “Underground Railroad” in Washington, D.C., Anne Midgette, The Washington Post’s classical music critic, wrote that “rather than witnessing a memorial to a soprano’s storied past, we got something vital and compelling and very much in the present.”
7 p.m. March 2. Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. $30-$85. 816-415-5025 or hjseries.org.
NAVO Chamber Orchestra
Shah Sadikov will conduct the NAVO Chamber Orchestra in music by Alfred Schnittke, Astor Piazzolla and Gustav Mahler in concerts at Atonement Lutheran Church and the Lied Center in Lawrence. The program will contrast the lush romanticism of the adagietto from Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 with the modernism of Schnittke’s Concerto for Piano and Strings and the Vivaldi-meets-tango “Four Seasons of Buenos Aires” by Piazzolla. Pianist Stephen Spooner will be the soloist for the Schnittke, and violinist Véronique Mathieu will do the honors for the Piazzola.
7:30 p.m. March 2 at Atonement Lutheran Church, 9948 Metcalf Ave., Overland Park, and 3 p.m. March 4 at Lied Center of Kansas Pavilion, 1600 Stewart Drive, Lawrence. Free but you need to reserve your seats at navoarts.com.
You can reach Patrick Neas at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow his Facebook page, KC Arts Beat, at facebook.com/kcartsbeat.