March 06, 2019

Two Verdi Guys in Chicago

Quinn Kelsey and Matthew Polenzani, together for Rigoletto

Rigoletto marks the first time baritone Quinn Kelsey and tenor Matthew Polenzani have starred together in a Lyric production. These Ryan Opera Center alumni are highly sought after worldwide, and they cherish their ongoing association with Lyric.

Matthew hails from the greater Chicago area – born in Evanston, raised mainly in Wilmette. Although now living in Pelham, New York, he still feels connected to Chicago, whether it comes to family, good friends, or sports teams. He’s also always sensed that the Chicago audience has been able to feel what he’s feeling onstage in a special, personal way.

Rigoletto is somewhat of a departure for Matthew – he isn’t playing the good guy! Instead he’s the Duke of Mantua, opera’s ultimate cad, although, surprisingly, in Act Two Verdi does give the Duke a sweetly soulful aria. Matthew, who seeks out the humanity in all his characters, considers that soliloquy “some of the best music Verdi ever wrote.” And as for the Duke’s “La donna è mobile,” one of the most famous arias in any opera, “People love it – I love it! And why not? Because it’s fun and it ends on a high note!”

There are plenty of high notes and hair-raising drama for the title role, the tortured and vengeful court jester, a signature role for Quinn Kelsey, which he's played in eight major companies. He’s endlessly intrigued by Rigoletto, although it presents great challenges (“It’s the kind of role where you have to split the difference so razor-thin between losing yourself in the emotion and holding on to just a sliver of control the whole time”). He’s fascinated that in Rigoletto’s interaction with his teenaged daughter Gilda, “he’s making it up as he goes along – he’s never been a real father figure. He thinks he’s doing what a parent is supposed to do, but he doesn’t have a clue.”

To the Hawaiian-born baritone, who’s considered Chicago home for the past 14 years, performing Rigoletto at Lyric means a great deal: “So many people in Chicago have supported me since I was a young artist, and have become more and more excited as Lyric has brought me back for bigger roles. I couldn’t be prouder to step on that stage, where I took such a huge step in the development of my career.” 

Matthew and Quinn have sung together just once before: “When we did Traviata in Zurich,” Quinn says of his colleague, “everything made sense with him. He gives so much dramatically, and you can stage a scene in so little time because you’re not waiting for him to do something. It’s so organic – people like that are so easy to work with, and the Chicago connection is icing on the cake.”

Lyric presentation of Verdi’s Rigoletto generously made possible by

Julie and Roger Baskes

Howard L. Gottlieb and Barbara G. Greis

Candy and Gary Ridgway

Roberta L. and Robert J. Washlow

Production owned by San Francisco Opera.

Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera