April 24, 2024

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I Fall For Art

Aurelio Dominguez Portrays Verdi’s Duke of Mantua With Empathy

Aurelio Dominguez stepped into the meaty role of the Duke of Mantua in Virginia Opera’s season opener, “Rigoletto,” just one more coincidence that has propelled him onward while pursuing an operatic career. While filling in last summer for an ailing singer at the request of a Washington area amateur group, he came to the attention of Joseph Walsh, the company’s associate conductor and chorus master. Walsh happened to be in attendance to present a master class and cornered Dominguez afterward, saying, “We have to talk.”

The upshot was a meeting with Peter Mark, VO’s founder and artistic director, and an invitation to become a member of the company’s spectrum resident artist program. For the first VO production last season, he covered the tenor role of Rodolfo in “La Bohème” while singing Parpignol, followed by covering Tonio in “Daughter of the Regiment” and singing the role of A Peasant. Now he is starring as the roué who inadvertently causes the death of the woman he truly loves, Gilda, the daughter of the court jester Rigoletto.

Dominguez acknowledges that most opera goers regard the Duke as a despicable man, but his view is different. The Duke certainly is immature, not ready to start a family, and plagued by many issues to work out. Nevertheless, despite the fact that he doesn’t take marriage seriously, Dominguez believes the Duke has many good qualities. That perspective of him is revealed when he and Gilda sing “Caro nome,” a signal that he truly loves her and is willing to throw his power out the window for her.

Dominguez’s character had to be renamed by composer Guiseppe Verdi when the censors complained. Hailed today as one of Verdi’s finest operas, it was among several that necessitated a change in the story line. Verdi based the “Rigoletto” libretto on a story by Victor Hugo that depicted a king of France as an immoral womanizer. This was not acceptable to northern European censors during the Restoration period. He finally overcame their objections by turning the character into an Italian duke.

Dominguez earned this coveted role after a long, accidental journey to Washington, DC. Growing up in Caracas, Venezuela, he studied viola at the local conservatory. Between lessons, he chatted with the voice teacher in the next room who encouraged him to develop his tenor voice. Good fortune soon arrived in the person of Kathleen Wilson, a specialist in Latin American art songs, who was on sabbatical leave from the University of New Hampshire. Impressed with his voice, she was instrumental in helping him get a scholarship there.

After he graduated in 1999 with a degree in Music and Spanish, she encouraged him to pursue graduate work at Catholic University. He quickly became active throughout the Washington, DC area, singing with the Baltimore Municipal Opera Company, at the Asian American Opera Festival and as soloist or in ensemble at numerous musical events. Now a member of the Washington National Opera chorus, he was thrilled to meet and be directed by Plàcido Domingo, one of his heroes.

Poised for a rewarding career in opera, Dominguez hopes to perform the role of the Duke of Mantua with many opera companies in the future. In addition to the fun of portraying a socially dysfunctional man whose primary problem is the large number of women who throw themselves at him, the role comes with three meaty arias that are well paced, among the finest Verdi ever wrote, and suit his voice perfectly.