Acclaimed tenor Rolando Villazón to make SFO debut with 'Orfeo'

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Jul. 23—Rolando Villazón's operatic career ignited when someone heard him singing in the shower. It was the baritone Arturo Nieto, a friend of his neighbor, who had heard him. He told Villazón he had an amazing voice and invited him to his Mexico City music academy. It was there that Villazón fell in love with opera. On July 29, the acclaimed tenor will take the Santa Fe Opera stage in "Orfeo." Penned in 1607, Claudio Monteverdi's "Orfeo" hinges on the axis between the late Renaissance and the Baroque. Based on the legendary Greek myth, it tells the story of Orfeo and Euridice and his descent to Hades, as well as his fruitless attempt to bring his dead bride back to the living world. "The music starts to take the stories of the Greeks instead of the sacred music, telling a story about love, death, sorrow, lust and happiness, the human emotions here on earth," Villazón said. Orfeo is Italian for Orpheus, a figure in Greek mythology who was chief among the poets and musicians. Monteverdi created his "Orfeo" for the Carnival opening at the Court Theatre of Duke Vincenzo I in Mantua. The composer invented a new form where characters are brought to life with poignant human feelings. Orfeo's dramatic power gave birth to what we call opera today. Santa Fe's new production will be directed by MacArthur Prize winner Yuval Sharon, featuring a new orchestration by Nico Muhly. "It's Baroque; it's look at me, see how wonderful art is," Villazón said. Villazón was raised in Fuentes de Satélite, a suburban area of Greater Mexico City. "I knew that singing was going to be my life very early," he said. "It was the place I felt freer and close to the world. I almost accidentally entered a conservatory." As a child, Villazón loved Baloo the bear from Disney's "The Jungle Book." He also appreciated "whoever did the voice of Peter O'Toole in 'Man of La Mancha.' " Much later, he heard an album by Plácido Domingo. "I loved his voice," Villazón said. "It was kind of a school." In 1999, he would place second in Domingo's voice competition. He met and befriended his idol. "Meeting him, that was the biggest prize for me," he said. "That's where our friendship started." The same year, he made a trio of European debuts as Des Grieux in Massenet's "Manon" in Genoa, and debuts as Alfredo in "La Traviata" at the Opéra de Paris and as Macduff in Verdi's "Macbeth" at the Staatsoper Berlin. Since then, Villazón has been a regular guest at the State Operas of Berlin, Munich and Vienna, La Scala in Milan, the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, New York's Metropolitan Opera and the Salzburg Festival. "Orfeo" marks his first time in Santa Fe. "This theater is absolutely gorgeous," he said. "It's a jewel. These most incredible landscapes — these monumental clouds are unbelievable. It's nature in all its grandeur."