Friday, May 22, 2015

Tenor René Barbera is in Love With Opera

By Erica Miner

Recipient of the Mabel Dorn Reeder Foundation Prize by Opera Theater of St. Louis as well as three prizes in Plácido Domingo’s Operalia Competition, and already one of the most beloved tenors on the contemporary operatic stage, René Barbera seems unstoppable. His star is not just rising; it already has found its place in the operatic firmament. 

With roots in Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Ryan Opera Center, he stands firmly in the bel canto tradition, but has dabbled in Verdi and Mozart and is poised to leap into Berlioz territory with his upcoming Les Troyens engagement with San Francisco Opera in June and July. I caught up with him shortly after his stunning debut in San Diego Opera’s recent 50th Anniversary Celebration Concert  ( brought audiences to their feet. 

EM: Before we get into your background, tell us all about the exciting new announcement you made recently. 

RB: I will be performing a recital in San Diego on September 19th at the Balboa Theater to kick off the San Diego Opera’s season!!

EM: How clever of SDO to grab you for the opening of next season. You must be thrilled.

RB: I’m so excited! This is my first professional American recital. 

EM: I for one can’t wait. Let’s go back in time a bit to your background. Where did you grow up? 

RB: I was born in Laredo, Texas, and lived there until I was 9. But I actually grew up in San Antonio.

EM: When and how did you become passionate about opera? 

RB: I recall being in my first opera, Hansel & Gretel (I was a rock on stage... literally), and what made me truly fall in love with Opera were the goings-on backstage. I really found myself enjoying the people who worked behind the scenes, and being captivated by what it took to keep the show going from the backstage point of view. The rest has come over time. The more I am a part of this art form, the more it becomes a part of me. 

EM: You’re about to venture into exciting new territory: Iopas in Les Troyens and Giannetto in La Gazza Ladra. After singing multiple roles typical of your fach, are you now being attracted to more unusual repertoire? 

RB: Honestly, I am not really “attracted” to unusual repertoire per se... There are definitely roles that I’m dying to sing at this point but, for the most part, I sing what I’m hired to sing that is appropriate for my voice. That said, I am always very excited to learn something new and to have the opportunity to explore new characters and new story lines. Iopas will be my first professional experience with Berlioz, and so far I can say that this is, hands down, some of the most gorgeous music I've ever heard. My fellow colleagues are all absolutely incredible singers and performers and we are all having a grand (pun intended) time. 

EM: Do you feel equally comfortable in Italian and French opera? 

RB: Italian is like home to me. French, however, is a little less comfortable. I LOVE singing in that language. It’s wonderful for the voice. The issue I have at this point with French is that I have to REALLY focus on what others are singing around me in order to understand what the individual words are... which makes acting rather difficult. In Italian I hear a word and I know where it begins, where it ends, and what it means. French, being such a new language for me, doesn’t come so easily. That said, I LOVE French music and look forward to singing more of it in the future! 

EM: As we look forward to hearing you. How would you compare performing in the States to performing in Europe?

RB: For me, atmosphere is everything. There is something magical about performing somewhere different. I guess, ultimately, the actual performing is not much different. Sometimes the rehearsal process is different… either more relaxed or more strict but mostly it’s just performing. The audiences are similar, though less predictable in Europe, but the actual experience of BEING in Europe, for me, is what makes the difference.
I will say, however, that after several months in Europe at a time, there is nothing like being back in the States. Nothing makes me feel that more than being sick in a country whose language you can, at best, butcher enough to order produce and having to try to explain your symptoms. 

EM: What roles have you not yet sung that you would like to perform? 

RB: Well the roles I haven’t yet sung that I have on my radar as dream roles are parts that I just SHOULDN’T sing yet and likely won’t for some time, if ever. There are roles I've performed that I’d LOVE to have a healthier dose of... Nemorino, Tonio, Elvino, Arturo, etc... The roles I shouldn’t yet sing, if ever, are: Rodolfo, Alfredo, Cavaradossi, Faust, Romeo, Nadir and such. 

EM: From what we heard at the SDO Celebration Concert, I personally would love to hear you sing Pearl Fishers. What are your plans, both immediate and future? 

RB: Well, as you’ve mentioned I will be singing in Les Troyens at San Francisco Opera and La Gazza Ladra at the Rossini Opera Festival. And of course my recital for the San Diego Opera on September 19th at the Balboa Theatre! After that I return to San Francisco for the Barber of Seville and that completes my 2015. 

EM: Will we also have the pleasure of seeing you perform in an operatic role for SDO? 

RB: I certainly hope so! I am quite fond of the San Diego audience, the city, the people, the views, and the folks at the opera. I was welcomed so wonderfully in April and fell in love with San Diego. Not sure when it will be or what opera… but I really hope it is soon! 

EM: As do we! Thanks so much for taking the time to give us your insights. 

RB: Thanks for taking the time to speak with me!!

Photo used with permission of: San Diego Opera

Erica Miner can be reached at: [email protected]

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