It’s Tuesday night at DeVos Performance Hall in downtown Grand Rapids. The orchestra is preparing to play music by Giuseppe Verdi, but taking the podium is Maestro James Meena, new artistic director of Opera Grand Rapids.
"No, no, well this is my first season, and this is our 50th year." says Maestro James Meena, who also directed last season's Romeo and Juliette by Gounod. "In a way, this Rigoletto production is my debut, or my second debut with Opera Grand Rapids. Every production makes a statement about a point of view of the level of artistry that we want to achieve. Opera Grand Rapids is in a different situation because we're only performing two grand operas this season. So we have to be very careful what we program. We have to balance between popular repertoire and things that are a little less popular, a little more challenging. I would say that Rigoletto not necessarily is an artistic statement other than the level of performance that we expect to achieve."
[Opera Grand Rapids rehearsing "Bella figlia dell'amore" from Verdi's Rigoletto]
"Verdi does two amazing things in that last scene." explains Meena. "He reveals the great tune ‘La donna e mobile,’ which is probably one of the most iconic pieces in all of opera, and then he gives you a one-two punch with this fantastic quartet and it's not just the quartet, the quartet is fantastic. The actual build up from ‘La donna e mobile’ into the quartet is just a wonderful pairing of pieces. Great momentum and great tunes! I mean, let's not forget, the man wrote melodies like nobody's business. In fact, he did not give the orchestra the music for ‘La donna e mobile’ until the day of, or the day before the premiere because he didn't want the stagehands hearing the song and then going out into the street and singing it. And of course, the day after the premiere, that's exactly what happened. People were out in the street singing ‘La donna e mobile’ and vendors were selling the music and selling the words, and, you know, which often happened back then."
[Opera Grand Rapids rehearsing "La donna e mobile" from Verdi's Rigoletto]
"’Caro nome,’ though, is a difficult aria on many levels." say Meena. "For the audience, it can be a difficult number because it is subtle. It's very much an internal piece. It's this young girl expressing her first emotions of love, but doing it in a way that is very personal. The melodies are very beautiful, but they're not tunes, necessarily. And there's a difference, you know? ‘La donna e mobile’ is a tune, but ‘Caro nome’ is a sequence of beautiful melodies that all come together to express this young girl's emotions. So that's why we might think that Gilda with ‘Caro Nome’ might not get the recognition, if you will. But it's a standard aria for coloratura soprano."
[Opera Grand Rapids rehearsing "Caro nome" from Verdi's Rigoletto]
Maestro James Meena and Opera Grand Rapids present Verdi’s Rigoletto Friday and Saturday Night at DeVos Performance Hall in downtown Grand Rapids.
Tickets and more information are available at OperaGR.org