Tenor Scott Quinn, a gregarious Texan, can hardly wait for the curtain to go up on San Diego Opera’s production of Giussepe Verdi’s popular opera Rigoletto, which opens February 2 at Civic Theatre. “The reward of playing the Duke of Mantua in Rigoletto is that I get to sing Verdi’s great music, and the Duke gets all of the best music–or at least the most tuneful music–in this opera.”
But the popularity of the opera and the Duke’s instantly recognized signature aria is also the downside of singing the role.
“You have to live up to this role and the expectations the audience brings to it. Everyone has heard Luciano Pavarotti sing ‘La donna è mobile,’ and they are going to compare your singing to his version. And they are really only paying attention to the high notes—they mainly come for the high notes,” he said with feigned exasperation.
Based on a racy, Grand Guignol plot from Victor Hugo’s 1832 play Le roi s’amuse (“The King Enjoys Himself”),Verdi’s Rigoletto is a rogues’ gallery of unsavory main characters. The title character is the court jester, a misanthropic hunchback who serves the irreformable womanizing Duke of Mantua—the role Quinn will sing for San Diego Opera—and Sparafucile, a professional assassin. Only Rigoletto’s daughter Gilda has a pure heart, and by the curious, unexpected twists of Hugo’s plot, the overprotective father ends up killing her.
“The Duke is the villain because of his disrespect for women, although he actually doesn’t kill anyone,” Quinn noted. “He does have one redeeming moment in the opera, however. When he meets Gilda, for a moment he comes out of his shell and has for her a genuine emotion. But it does not change his ways.” In this encounter, however, the Duke does not reveal his true identity to Gilda, pretending to be an impoverished student, but they end up singing a charming love duet “È il sol dell’ anima” that ends in an elaborate double cadenza.
San Diego’s Rigoletto makes Quinn’s third stage performance of the role—he has previously sung it with Atlanta Opera and Lyric Opera Kansas City. He says he finds himself most at home in the operas of Verdi and Puccini, although he is more attracted Puccini’s musical style and his characters.
“Puccini is pure legato line,” said Quinn sporting his most appreciative smile, “but Verdi is much more demanding. I mean he still requires the legato line, but it has more emphatically defined rhythmic definition. And Verdi’s characters tend to be more heroic roles as opposed to everyday people. When I sing Verdi, I put on my mask, trust my technique and know it will come out.”
Quinn is excited to expand his roster of Puccini roles, adding Cavaradossi in Puccini’s Tosca in an upcoming season of Opera North Carolina. The young tenor has already sung Rodolfo in Puccini’s La bohème for both Utah Opera and Minnesota Opera and Pinkerton in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly for Palm Beach Opera.
Opera was not on Quinn’s radar when he was a student at Stephen F. Austin College in Nacogdoches, Texas. And Quinn the baritone did not start out as a tenor, either.
“Growing up, I sang in church, but I only studied voice in college because I received a vocal scholarship to attend Stephen F. Austin College. I was fortunate to have a great teacher in David Jones, who was always playing me recordings of the great tenors Nicolai Gedda and Franco Corelli, and who taught me the technique to make the sounds they produced.”
But Quinn graduated and took a job for two years in his state’s petroleum industry as an oil and gas land man, ascertaining and authenticating the ownership of properties on which companies found fuel reserves.
“One day out of the blue, my Mom told me that Shreveport Opera was holding a vocal competition, and that I should enter it.” He followed his mother’s sage suggestion and ended up winning first place. A second place win an ensuing vocal competition held by The Dallas Opera led to a stint as an Artist in Residence at that company. Participating in San Francisco Opera’s Merola Opera Program and the Houston Grand Opera Studio honed his stage presence and expanded his repertory.
Quinn is selective about his enthusiasm for contemporary opera, but he is an unabashed fan of Jake Heggie, whose operas Moby-Dick and Great Scott have found strong audience approval in their successful San Diego Opera productions.
“When I was part of the Houston Grand Opera Studio, I covered the role of Greenhorn in Moby-Dick. I was taken by Heggie’s work because Moby-Dick is cinematic but still operatic–and Heggie is very kind to the voice.”
I asked Quinn what he would say to the proverbial man on the street to persuade him to attend San Diego Opera’s Rigoletto.
“It’s pure tragedy, but wonderful music–come see this opera!”
San Diego Opera’s production of “Rigoletto” opens Saturday, February 2, 2019, at the San Diego Civic Theatre in downtown San Diego. It continues with evening performances on February 5 and February 8, with a closing matinee on Sunday, February 10 in the same venue.