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James Valenti: Playing a bad boy, enjoying a good run - Rising opera star returns to Dallas stage in ‘Rigoletto’

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In the Dallas Opera’s 2009 production of “La Bohéme,” New Jersey native James Valenti won the hearts of audiences and critics alike with his moving performance as the “young, romantic swain” Rodolfo.

On March 25, the 33-year old star gets to switch gears when he takes on the role of a bad boy [the Duke of Mantua] in Giuseppe Verdi’s “Rigoletto,” a welcome change of pace for the popular tenor.

“I haven’t played the Duke since the end of 2009,” he explained during a telephone interview from poolside at the apartment he’s rented for the run of the show. “So, it’s great to come back and do it again. It’s fun to be the bad guy.”

The past few years have been a whirlwind for the 6-foot, 5-inch singer.

In addition to Rodolfo, he’s played the lead in “Roméo et Juliette” and dashing Naval officer Pinkerton in “Madame Butterfly.”

He made his Metropolitan Opera debut last year as Alfredo in “La Traviata,” a role he’ll reprise next year in Dallas.

He was named the 2009 Maria Callas Debut Artist of the Year by the Dallas Opera.

Valenti won the 2010 Richard Tucker Award, given to an “American singer poised on the edge of a major national and international career.”

Even though he’s sung at the Met, London, Paris and Milan, Valenti prefers smaller theaters.

“Working at the Met and the Paris opera is great, but you get kinda lost in places like that,” he explained. “Dallas is a little bit smaller, but it’s still a fantastic company.”

Valenti was pleased with the reception he received from Dallas audiences.

“It was a very, very, very warm welcome,” he said. “The energy and excitement I got from the audience made me want to do better. Sometimes the European audiences can feel cold and detached. It’s not that way in Dallas.”

Valenti’s been in town for about three weeks, rehearsing with the cast and orchestra and staying in a rented apartment in the city’s West Village.

“It’s a nice, lively area,” he said.

Though you’d never know it to look at him now, Valenti admits to being something of a “dork” growing up in Clinton, New Jersey. Then, he discovered the power of the human voice.

“I started singing in high school,” he said. “I was in show choirs. Then, when I was about 16 or 17, I heard The Three Tenors [Placido Domingo, José Carreras and Luciano Pavarotti]. Something about them just pulled me in.”

He was particularly attracted to the voice of Luciano Pavarotti.

“I grew up in an Italian family,” he explained. “My uncle played Pavarotti every summer on the way to our visits to Long Island, but I didn’t pay much attention to it until later. Then I said, ‘Wow. I want to do that.’”

After graduating from the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia,  he started his professional career and hasn’t looked back.

When asked about his favorite role, he hesitates, but settles on Rodolfo.

“He’s the young, romantic swain,” Valenti said with a laugh. “I guess I’m partial to him.”

After completing his run in Dallas, Valenti will spend some time on the golf course near his home in West Palm Beach, Fla., where he’s lived for the past year and a half.

Next month, he’ll again play the Duke for the Detroit Opera and then he’s on to the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden in London to play Lt. Pinkerton in June.

In Dallas, everything seems to be working in tandem to please Valenti, including Mother Nature.

“It’s been a pleasurable experience in every way,” he said with a laugh. “It’s a great cast and we have good energy together. Even the weather’s been great. Dallas is such a great city and the new opera house is fantastic. I feel truly appreciated and special here.”

Subsequent performances are scheduled for March 27 (matinee), 30, April 2, 7 and 10 (matinee), with single tickets starting at $25.
Call 214-443-1000 or go online at www.dallasopera.org.




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