Rigoletto is an opera in three acts which, according to the Philadelphia Opera, is about “fate, revenge and the abuse of power”.
An audience of 1,200 at the Academy of Music on Sunday afternoon were treated to a surprise fourth act involving duplicity, plotting and romance.
Just after the singers take their last bow, the tenor Blue Joshuawho is making his debut with the opera company, called his girlfriend, Ashley Marie Robillard, on stage.
“Ashley Robillard, on stage. Call Ashley Robillard,” he said into the microphone.
He had a question to ask. It was an awwwww-inspiring moment as the crowd realized what was going on.
“You are the most amazing, brightest, most caring, most creative, most completely chaotic person I’ve ever known,” Blue said. “You make every day an adventure that I want to last forever.”
Then, right: a person emerges wearing a slightly creepy bear costume. Looks like something out of Donnie Darko rack at a reduced price. The man is then identified as Bob Hawkey of South Philly, an extra in Rigoletto and friend of the couple who had been accused of possessing the ring. (The costume was a joke about a “ring bear”.)
Blue, kneeling before his beloved.
“Would you marry me?” he asked Robillard.
She said yes. No hesitation.
After the curtain fell, the cast broke into cheers.
You might call it an “operaposition,” says Frank Luzi, vice president of marketing at the Philadelphia Opera.
Or not. This term will probably not catch on.
Blue, 27, said he told Robillard, also 27, that Rigoletto – the Philadelphia Opera’s first full production at the Academy of Music since the start of the coronavirus pandemic – would be the perfect time for their parents to finally meet.
He didn’t mention the whole engagement story.
“When I realized they were coming, I thought, ‘Why not invite everyone?'” Blue said. “I told Ashley it was a great opportunity to see the people we haven’t seen during the pandemic – while secretly letting everyone but her know the real reason they’re here.”
Ashley Marie Robillard last appeared with the Philadelphia Opera in 2019 as Musetta in Bohemian. At the time, David Patrick Stearns of The Inquirer gave her rave reviews: “As the flirtatious Musetta, Ashley Marie Robillard of the Curtis Institute sang with beauty and precision even in her most comedic moments. This is the voice I would most like to hear again.
In Rigoletto, Blue played the Duke of Mantua, a womanizing villain who has a thing for his jester’s daughter. It doesn’t end well.
But Robillard said the Academy of Music, a magnificent opera house built in the mid-19th century, was a fitting place to say ‘yes’ to her future husband.
“Philadelphia has been my opera family,” Robillard said.
Backstage, she was ecstatic, wearing her grandmother’s ring as an engagement ring. She had to sit down to take a break before the couple rushed off for a massive dinner party with dozens of family and friends.
While it’s no secret that they were planning to tie the knot, Robillard said she didn’t know Blue was going to pop the question on Sunday.
“I’m so sorry if any of the swear words got picked up on the mic,” Robillard said with a laugh.