Watching the opera is like entering another world. Not just because the entire performance is sung—in another language no less—but because even the most dark moments in life are portrayed in the most beautiful manner.
Just last January, “Madama Butterfly” came to a heartbreaking end and the upcoming “Rigoletto” (spoiler alert) will be no different in terms of heartbreaking endings. It makes you wonder: are there any happy operas?
“It’s an opera, somebody has to die,” said Pensacola Opera’s Artistic Director Kyle Marrero, laughing. “Where do you think soap operas come from?”
While death drives the drama of the play it doesn’t make it any less entertaining to watch and listen to. The famous aria “La Donna E Mobile” may not spark any memories in print, but when the melody strikes, you’ll happily think to yourself “I know this song!” which makes “Rigoletto” a great opera for first-timers.
“It’s the most famous tenor aria,” Marrero said. “The composer, Giuseppe Verde, wouldn’t allow his tenor to sing it until the final dress rehearsal. He knew it would be instantly popular.”
Taking place in Mantua, Italy in the 16th century, “Rigoletto” is a complicated story that tangles the title character—a hunchback court jester— with a womanizing Duke and Rigoletto’s daughter, Gilda, who has fallen for the Duke.
Marrero said Verdi first wrote the play about a king instead of a duke, but revised it to get the opera approved by Italian censors.
The Pensacola Opera has been working on “Rigoletto” since September. However, the actors portraying Rigoletto and the Duke flew in only a week before the play to rehearse with the chorus at the opera house. It’s only three days before the curtain goes up that all the puzzle pieces can be put together in the Saenger Theatre.
As the chorus master for this performance, Marrero will be just as happy as the audience to see the entire puzzle put together.
“It’ll be exciting to see,” he said.
Playing the part of Rigoletto is Todd Thomas, from Philadelphia. This is his second time joining the Pensacola Opera and his seventh round of playing the role of Rigoletto—and he’s not bored with the opera yet.
“There are many facets and different layers,” Thomas said. “It has a great melody, great lines. The storyline resonates very deeply.”
As a father or four, Thomas understands Rigoletto’s protective nature of his daughter even though that possessiveness comes to a tragic end.
“When you put someone on a pedestal, the only way for them to get off is to fall,” he said.
Chad Johnson has come from New York City to sing in the Pensacola Opera for the first time. Playing the role of the Duke is another first for him. While Thomas may be comfortable with his lead role after playing it half a dozen times, Johnson has stepped out of his comfort zone to play the bad guy.
“It’s great,” he said. “I’m always playing the nice, romantic lead. This time, I get to be the antagonist.”
For Johnson, the play is still very relatable and reflects many modern-day stories even though it was written in the mid-1800s. There’s break-ups, infidelities and, of course, good music.
“I love all the characters, they’re very human,” he said. “And the music is outrageously good.”
WHEN: 7:30 p.m., Friday, March 9 and 2 p.m. Sunday, March 11
WHERE: Saenger Theatre, 118 S. Palafox