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The Opera History of Broadway's Greatest Diva

Posted on: April 12, 2024

Broadway legend. Powerhouse. Diva. All of these are words that can describe Patti LuPone. For decades, she’s wowed audiences on Broadway with her compelling singing and immersive acting, bringing an intensity to the stage unlike any other. A beloved icon to musical theater fans, she’s been honored with three Tony Awards for playing the titular role in Evita, Rose in Gypsy and Joanne in Company. It’s safe to say that LuPone’s legacy on Broadway will never be forgotten, but did you know that this Broadway legend has also dabbled in opera? Not only has she dabbled, but she’s related to one of the most accomplished opera singers to have ever lived. With LuPone bringing her concert A Life in Notes to our stage, we wanted to talk about her relationship with opera and how that led her to our stage.  

If you’re an opera buff, the name Patti may feel familiar to you. Adelina Patti was a great 19th-century Italian soprano who not only captured the admiration of Verdi, but also happened to be Patti LuPone’s great-great aunt, whom she was named after. The name seems to guarantee singing talent, as Adelina made her operatic debut at the astonishing age of 16 when she sang the title role in Lucia di Lammermoor. She herself was the daughter of opera singers, but it was Adelina who ultimately came to be known to opera lovers around the world. She was celebrated for her acting and singing, and her greatest successes were in roles that channeled deep emotions such as Violetta in La Traviata or Leonara in Il Trovatore. Adelina passed away on September 27, 1919, nearly 30 years before Patti LuPone was born.  

With LuPone being named after an opera legend, and after already dominating the Broadway world, it only seemed natural that she’d eventually want to dabble in opera. To make her operatic debut, who better else to turn to than her former Juilliard classmate, James Conlon? That’s right: for those who don’t know, Conlon and LuPone both attended Juilliard from 1968-1972. They even introduced their mothers to each other, with LuPone later joking that both of their mothers were “already writing out the wedding invitations” upon first meeting. Conlon and LuPone collaborated in Los Angeles in 2007 for our very own production of Kurt Weill’s Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny. This was the perfect opera for LuPone to star in for not only did she have Conlon as a guide, but her role of Leokadja Begbick (try saying that five times fast) was written in a style closer to musical theater than opera. Both the production and the recordings were a hit, with the recording earning LuPone two Grammys.  

MGH4265Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny was LuPone’s biggest opera performance, but it wouldn’t be her last one. She returned in an unforgettable cameo in our 2015 production of John Corigliano's The Ghosts of Versailles where she played Samira. Conlon lobbied for LuPone to play this role, remembering his time at the Met when he watched Marilyn Horne in rehearsals for Ghosts and how she stole the show in her short amount of stage time. Conlon knew whoever played the role of Samira must give an unforgettable, show-stopping performance. Who better to perform it than the woman who’s been performing showstoppers for decades? We’re happy to say that LuPone did just that, with her performance receiving stellar reviews in the Grammy-winning production. We’re sure that Adelina Patti would smile to see her relative command the operatic stage just like she did.  
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With LuPone’s last two appearances here being so memorable, we can’t wait for her to grace our stage again when she brings her A Life in Notes tour here on April 20. If you’ve had the pleasure to see LuPone before, then we don’t need to tell you how amazing of a performer she is. But if this is your first opportunity to see this legend live, we implore you to attend and see the woman who’s been stealing the show in both the musical and opera world throughout her career.