LA Opera’s “Rigoletto” | Photos by Ken Howard/LA Opera

Hit play below to listen to our KUSC Out and About feature on LA Opera artist in residence, Matthew Aucoin.

Verdi’s opera Rigoletto has opened to raves at LA Opera. On the podium in the pit for this production is the young conductor and composer who is LA Opera’s artist in residence, Matthew Aucoin. Aucoin is just 28 years old, but he’s been composing since he was four and conducting for almost as long. He says Giuseppe Verdi was not only a master composer, but also really good at understanding his audience and knowing what they’d like while also growing the art form of opera.

“Verdi was very canny. He was very smart. He said this scandalous thing about the box office receipts being the only true measure of artistic quality. So, he wasn’t a provocateur to the most extreme degree. He didn’t want to lose his audience. He wasn’t saying, ‘Screw you.’”

Some composers do say that while scoffing at anyone who manages to sell tickets.

Aucoin says, “The course of Verdi’s career is evolution, not revolution. He knows how far he can push the envelope without losing the audience. Rigoletto is a thunderbolt: it’s a new and more dynamic form. But, he didn’t throw his lineage out the window. There are half-a-dozen unforgettable arias, there’s memorable choral writing, there’s the kind of punchy, dark-hued orchestral coloring that he’d already been known for. So, Rigoletto felt fresh [to audiences in 1851] but it is part of a long trajectory.”

Aucoin says his favorite thing about Verdi is that each of his operas builds on the previous one.

“He’s one of the only artists in any genre that I can think of who just gets better and better until he’s in his early 80s. You know, those early operas? I love them, but they are crude! He’s painting with a hammer—and it’s a sledgehammer. But he just gets more and more refined and more and more sophisticated and more daring. Some composers get stodgy as they get older. Verdi just kept pushing.”

LA Opera artist in residence Matthew Aucoin is conducting LA Opera’s current run of Rigoletto, on stage at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion through June 3rd. For tickets and information, visit laopera.org