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Arts and Entertainment

Q&A with opera baritone Mark Rucker
The Metropolitan Opera star performs in Charlotte Oct. 19
Published Thursday, October 10, 2013
by Michaela L. Duckett

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Metropolitan Opera star Mark Rucker will perform in Charlotte at Belk Theater Oct. 19 for Opera Carolina's season opener "Aida."

Opera Carolina is kicking off its 65th season, themed “The Architects of Love” with Giuseppe Verdi’s “Aida,” a glorious 19th century drama about the conflicting loyalties and dangerous desires of a military commander and the Ethiopian princess who is his capture. “Aida” opens Oct. 19 at Belk Theater with additional shows Oct. 24 and Oct. 27.

Metropolitan Opera star Mark Rucker, who stars as Aida’s father, the Ethiopian king Amonasro, made his opera debut as Renato in “Un ballo in maschera” with Luciano Pavarotti for the Opera Company of Philadelphia, and has since been in demand in opera houses and on concert stages throughout the world.

However, in high school he had dreams of becoming a football star. In the following Q&A, he shares what set him on course to being an opera singer and his thoughts on performing an art that many African Americans have never experienced.

What was your first opera experience?

I saw an opera in New York City with my father in ’75 or ‘76. I saw “Aida,” which is kind of ironic. It was done at the Metropolitan Opera with Leontyne Price, and I loved it. Seeing an Afro-American woman as the title character was a huge excitement for me because at that time there was not a lot of Afro-American performers in opera at all. So seeing Leontyne Price on stage was incredible.

Is the playing field for African-American opera singers more level now?

You’re likely to see them more often now than then. But part of that is not there is just a larger number of African-Americans singing opera as there is more exposure in the general public to them. Opera has not been a huge (in our community). In the African-American community, if you ask someone to name the five best performances you want to go see, opera probably would not be one of those. For us as African Americans, it’s a little bit of a problem because it has always been conceived as kind of a European art form.

Do you see that trend changing?

No. And not just in the African-American community. Opera is in trouble anyway from economics. There are companies that are folding all over the place because of the economy. So the exposure in communities that would necessarily get opera anyway is more difficult.

Was there a defining moment for you when you knew that being an opera singer is what you wanted to do?

It was in high school. I had an incredible high school music teacher named Lena McLin, who a lot of choral people would know because she’s a composer. She was vehement about exposing people to any kind of music that was in existence. And classical music certainly played a major part in her life so she introduced us to that… We actually did an opera in high school, and she walked up to me one day and said, “You’re going to be an opera singer.” I laughed and thought it was the silliest thing I’d ever heard. And then when I made my opera debut in 2004, she was in the audience.

Of all of the roles that you’ve played, which character has been the most like you?

None of them hopefully (laughter). Well, you can make a case for Rigoletto (a cursed hunchback court jester in Verdi’s ‘Rigoletto’), and the reason I say that is because I can understand Rigoletto’s plight about trying to save his daughter.

Which of your characters did you have the least in common with?

That’s an easy one. That would be Iago. Iago in “Othello” is pure evil, and God, I hope I’m not like that.

What about the character you will play in “Aida?”

Amonasro is kind of a mixed bag in the middle of that. He is not a nice a person, and he uses his daughter in some unspeakable ways. He does it because he wants to save his people, and in wartime you do things that you wouldn’t do normally. They come from a hierarchy. He’s royalty. He’s a king, but he’s not treated that way anymore… So in that aspect, he is both. He is evil in some ways but he is honorable in what he tries to do.

What do you hope the audience will take away from “Aida”?

The first thing they should take away from it is the music. Opera, if nothing else, is about music. As actors, we try to develop the story so that people can understand it more, but even if you don’t know anything about Italian. Even if you don’t know anything about opera at all, if you just went to an opera and sat there with your eyes closed that music should send you into some emotional spin… That’s when you know music is hitting you. That’s what opera tends to do, especially with Verdi.


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