Tenor Stephen Costello Plays the Duke in Verdi's Rigoletto for HGO

American tenor Stephen Costello loves Verdi's music. As for the character of the Duke of Mantua who he'll be playing in Houston Grand Opera's upcoming production of Rigoletto?

"Not so much," Costello says.

"The duke just really treats women like crap," Costello assesses in this tale of revenge and betrayal. Preying upon one female conquest after another, only to discard the women almost immediately, the duke shows a bit of a softer side during his aria in Act 2, but soon returns to his old ways, Costello says.

He's played the role three times at three different opera houses and although he's not a fan of his character's lack of transformation, it's the Verdi music that makes up for the part he has to play, Costello says. "When you listen to Verdi there's so much theatrics on stage as well as in the music."

American bass baritone Ryan McKinny (last seen at HGO in Tristan and Isolde) will be singing the title role, the court jester and father who tries unsuccessfully to keep his daughter Gilda away from the duke he serves.

"You can hear the emotions especially in Rigoletto's aria. You can hear his heart breaking, his sorrow," Costello says.

The Philadelphia native's original life plan was to be a trumpet player - he studied it for 15 years - but a high school instrumental teacher's advice to join the chorus so improve his sight-reading skills, led to a discovery that he had a good voice, then to musical theater and finally in college to the study of opera.

Costello met HGO Music and Artistic Director Patrick Summers while both were working on the world premiere of Jake Heggie's Moby Dick with the Dallas Opera and other collaborations followed.

Rigoletto runs January 24 through February 9. 7:30 p.m. January 24 and 29 and February 1 and 7, and 2 p.m. January 26 and February 9. Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas Avenue. For information call 713-228-6737 or visit houstongrandopera.org. $15 - $325.

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