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Spotlights [Issue # 13 ]
Rolando Villazón: Gounod, Massenet: Arias

By Jason Sklar

his February, up-and-coming opera tenor Rolando Villazón will be performing opposite Anna Netrebko in Shakespeare’s Roméo and Juliet.

He recently followed up his 2004 recording with an additional sampling of arias on Virgin Classics. This young Mexican tenor has been turning heads in the opera world and looks to turn even more as he is booked solid through 2009.

During Villazón’s upbringing, singing was very important. While he was surrounded by mariachi and salsa styles, Villazón grew exponentially fond of opera. “Singing was always my favorite place,” he says. “While I was singing, I was dreaming and creating stories around the song. I loved to perform Don Quixote of Man of La Mancha.” Villazón loved the freedom and liberty made possible in opera. He was able to develop his imagination through song.

In 1999, Villazón participated in Operalia, a big opera contest put on by Placido Domingo. Villazón won many awards, but says, “Meeting Placido at Operalia was the biggest prize.” Domingo has long been one of Villazón’s key sources of inspiration and guidance. “Since I discovered the tenor, my admiration has grown. He is my mentor; my artistic father. He has been a huge inspirational figure for me.”
Be that as it may, Villazón believes that only he can truly teach and improve himself. “In opera we play a unique instrument because of who we are: a unique individual. Therefore, only one person is able to teach that person how to play that instrument. That should be yourself.”

Villazón undergoes regular psychoanalysis which he says helps him to perform on a rich emotional level. “I am very analytic in my own life,” says Villazón. “So, while I leave a lot to instinct and spontaneity, I work a lot in diction and emotion. Onstage, I am able to move my body as a consequence of a true emotion. In psychoanalysis, you take out all the things that stop you from going farther. That allows me to give everything I can give as a performer.”

“During those three hours, there is something between everybody. It’s a whole community,” he says. “You do it for the audience. You send emotion to them. We need testimony of what we are doing. You receive the energy and heart from them. I can feel their attention.”

“Opera requires that you put yourself into the flavor of the music. You do not want to have to look where to place a high note,” he says. “You do not want to be tracking what you are doing technically. Through organic memory, your body has to learn how to create and obtain a sound and feel comfortable with creating true characters.”

Villazón finds that Roméo works quite well with the dramatic singing approach used in opera. “Dramatically, this is a wonderful role. He (Roméo) is an extreme adolescent.” Villazón feels the exaggerated condition of Roméo fits with the genre so well because “it could be very close to being very ridiculous.” However, by providing the right emotion in the right context, Shakespeare’s character makes a powerful statement well suited for the operatic setting. “We create another world on stage - a singing world. The task is to make that believable and in touch with the character.”
The effervescent Villazón engages his company with his energy and feeds off theirs. But during his orchestra-accompanied arias, Villazón must face the blackened opera house alone. “I tend to concentrate on the exit signs,” he says. It just reminds him, “At the end, the most important thing is the voice.”

Massenet/Gounod: Arias
Virgin Classics

Gounod, Massenet: Arias Rolando Villazón Massenet/Gounod: Arias

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