New Artist of the Month: David Lomeli

SAN FRANCISCO — David Lomeli can’t remember a time when music wasn’t part of his life. “I grew up with 13 women around me, and there was always singing,” says the 29-year-old Mexican tenor.

Lomeli completed his second year as an Adler Fellow at the San Francisco Opera in December, concluding the program’s finale concert with a gloriously open-hearted “Nessun dorma.” He’s been singing professionally since 2006, when he became the first artist to take top awards in both the opera and zarzuela divisions of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia Competition. But in a recent interview at San Francisco’s War Memorial Opera House, he credited the Adler residency with taking him to a new level.

“It’s been a good year and I’m very happy,” he said. “I think that my training here really started to settle in; the style, the speed to learn new repertoire, all got better. Now, my main goal is to be consistent every day. I feel I’ve really started to achieve that.”

As an Adler, he made his mainstage debut as Alfredo in “La Traviata” in 2009. Last year, he sang roles in San Francisco Opera’s “Aida” and “Fanciulla del West” and covered Ramon Vargas in “Werther.” He performed Verdi’s Requiem with the Berlin Philharmonic (Mariss Jansons conducting) and in November of 2010 introduced his Edgardo at Pittsburgh Opera, before returning to Germany to revisit his Alfredo, this time for Deutsche Oper Berlin.

Lomeli’s voice is large, well-supported and passionate, with solid low notes and plenty of ping at the top — a thrilling, sweet-sounding lyric tenor ideal for bel canto roles. At this point, he’s considering a range of repertoire, but says his current comfort zone is Donizetti. He makes his debut with the New York City Opera singing Nemorino in “L’elisir d’amore” in March.

Born in Mexico City and raised in northern Mexico’s Monterrey, Lomeli’s talent is in his DNA, literally. His grandmother, Berta Pelayo, was under contract in Mexico City during “the golden years of Mexican opera” – a time, he says, when Callas and Di Stefano appeared there. His father, a banker, traveled frequently, so young David and his mom, also a singer, were often with his grandmother and aunts.

“Coming home [singing] songs from kindergarten, my mom and grandmother would say ‘No, you need to have support’ or ‘You have to breathe this way,’” he recalls. “I was lucky, because it taught me beautiful singing and healthy technique.”

Lomeli is tall – 6’2” – and speaks with a high voice. “I never really suffered a voice change in puberty,” he says. “It became a little thicker but I always speak really high.” Despite his obvious talent, the Mexican educational system didn’t support vocal artists: “No one in Mexico,” he says, “believes you’re going to make it as a singer.” So he focused instead on sports, and was soon offered a half scholarship at the University of Monterrey. He graduated in 2004, with a degree in computer science. Meanwhile, the school had started an opera program, for which he auditioned with “Maria” from “West Side Story.” He sang his first opera – Mozart’s “Bastien und Bastienne” – at Monterrey.

A bewildering couple of years followed, with Lomeli traveling to Spain to study singing in Barcelona and engineering in Catalunya. (He paid his expenses by teaching salsa dancing and singing in a pop band.) A young artist summer program at La Scala followed; his coaches were encouraging, says Lomeli, but advancing was difficult.

“They told me to get training, but I didn’t know how,” he says. He sent letters to 40 Mexican companies looking for sponsors and didn’t get a single reply; he auditioned for young artist programs in Houston, Seattle, Berlin and elsewhere, and was rejected. Discouraged, he considered quitting; then, in 2005, he was accepted in a young artist program in Mexico City. His teacher was Cesar Ulloa, who, along with a sponsor, Pepita Serrano, arranged for him to fly to New York and audition for Plácido Domingo.

Domingo offered him a spot in the Los Angeles Opera’s Domingo-Thornton Young Artist program, and asked him to represent Mexico in Operalia. “From there, my whole life changed,” says Lomeli. He spent two years in Los Angeles, singing Lerma and the Herald in “Don Carlo” and his first Verdi Requiem with the LA Philharmonic, under Gustavo Dudamel. From there, he made his way into the San Francisco Opera Center and, in 2009, became an Adler Fellow.

In addition to his City Opera debut, Lomeli’s future engagements include Macduff with Opera de Lille in May and Rodolfo at Santa Fe Opera this summer. Also scheduled are appearances at Houston, Frankfurt and Glyndebourne. Asked about long-term goals, Lomeli again mentions his program-ending “Nessun dorma”: he’d like to sing a complete “Turandot,” and perhaps a “Trovatore.”

For now, though, he seems content to keep learning, growing — and singing. “It gives me peace, and it also helps me help my family,” he says. “Right now, my main goal is to stay healthy and keep singing. I’m doing what I love to do.”

By Georgia Rowe
February 1, 2011
Copyright © 2011, Musical America

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