chattin’ up David Lomelí: Mexican tenor, toast of NYC!
As Nemorino in Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love presented by New York City Opera this past spring, tenor David Lomeli was the rising star New York critics raved about and audiences gushed over:
“Mr. Lomelí captured the opera’s potent combination of hilarity and pathos. He certainly deserved all the applause and bravos. He was, in a word, delightful.”
–The New York Times (full review here)
After David sang “Una Furtiva Lagrima” on opening night (his first Elixir ever, by the way), the audience applauded for a solid minute and a half. “The choristers backstage timed it,” David said in a recent phone interview.
I saw David sing the role for New York City Opera. In my review for Backtrack, I cited his second-act aria as one the most magical moments I’d experienced as an operagoer, the kind we all pray to be in the audience for and are fortunate to witness.
Without equivocation, David Lomeli was la estrella de Nueva York. As The New York Observer said in their feature “Who Matters Now,” David Lomeli brings “Latin ardor to the stage.”
In case you didn’t know, his first name David (which he pronounces daVEED) means beloved. How fitting! This is one performer who is simply adored — whenever he sings, wherever he goes.
It seems that this love fest for David Lomeli began 29 years ago when he was born in Mexico City into a musically talented family. As a small child, he had blonde hair and pink skin, and the thirteen women he grew up with fussed over him to no end because of his fair coloring. And it seems as though all the fussing over David Lomeli has never stopped.
(Or maybe it’s only just begun.)
Since winning Plácido Domingo’s Operalia in 2006, to this day Maestro Domingo mentors him, regarding David not only as a protege but also embracing him like family. David has been generously encouraged by many big names in opera including Luciano Pavarotti who once told David that being a next generation opera star would be much harder than the challenges he himself faced because of the acting and staging demands opera performance requires these days. He considers another very famous Mexican tenor Rolando Villazón his generational idol.
David Lomeli is talented and hard-working, putting everything he has (mind, body, soul) into each of his performances. He is uber-friendly, utterly charming, and yet very down-t0-earth, having agreed to be profiled on Operatoonity though he and I had never met prior to this interview.
His is fluent in English — he attended a British school in Mexico — and so his answers are his own. (No translation required).
Bienvenido, David! Since your performance in ’Elixir’ so gladdened my heart (porque cantando se alegran, los corazones), it is such a pleasure to have this chance to talk with you.
Can you tell me a little about your childhood (besides being a native of Mexico City)–how you grew up and how it affected your decision to sing opera?
Well, in my family there was always music. My grandmother and my mother were singers — my mom a mezzo and grandma a soprano. I was raised by them my first years. My dad plays the guitar. You can tell by the quantity and quality of the Mexican tenors, that we are surrounded my music all the time — between salsa, mariachi, corrido, cumbia and boleros we always singing. The opera path opened in college where I finished an engineer career in computer systems. The beautiful way of Mexicans to do things happened in college.
My university had a theater of 2,500 seats with a concert series featuring artists like Pavarotti, Ramon Vargas and Gustavo Dudamel coming every year, a musical theater company that made many Spanish world premieres of Broadway shows and a full orchestra. But there was no music degree offered, so we did operas and musical with whatever student of other degrees wanted to do it as an extra credit. The opera company of the university offered to pay my tuition as an engineer if I dedicated my extra time to sing with them and that’s how it happened. They sent me to Barcelona and Milan to study my degree in evening with musical training in the mornings. I learned a lot by doing performances, graduating with more than 300 performances in the school theater productions. It was a great period of my life.
You were invited to compete in Operalia in 2006, representing the United States (according to the website). How did that come about?
You are right – the site says that I represented the US. But, I am not sure why, because when I won they said, “David Lomeli, tenor from MEXICO.” I do owe a lot to my US training and support, but my green Mexican passport does not lie. Ha ha ha! I am still proud to be Mexican! (The citation has since been corrected to reflect his real country of origin.)
What are your memories of that experience—being named a finalist and then winning 1st prize and zarzuela?
It was a dream come true. It was my first real competition, and my career was starting so fast. In February 2006, I just was sneaked up by my teacher Cesar Ulloa for an audition with Plácido Domingo. By August of 2006 I had a legal working visa and I had my first musical rehearsal ever! And it was next to Ferruccio Furlanetto, Salvatore Licitra, Eric Halverson, the dear Dolora Zajick (she gave me multiple suggestions on voice and career) — all conducted my maestro James Conlon. It was wild! I was surrounded by new friends and idols like Rolando Villazon and Anna Netrebko and then — kaboom! Two months later I won Operalia. I really appreciate so much the judges that trusted me that I could represent the label of an Operalia winner, when I think they saw a green raw potential and they offered the help needed to really jump start my career.
I remember clearly the system – I was last in the operatic round and also last in the zarzuela one. I didn’t have any rehearsal with the orchestra and I had never sang those pieces with orchestra ever. “O souverain” from Massenet’s Le Cid was my operatic piece, and it was a different version!!! And the zarzuela piece was very complicated. Thank God Maestro Domingo was there to take care of me on the pit. An angel intervened that day for sure. I was so nervous.
How has Operalia impacted your career since winning the contest?
It gives you a label that never goes away. It is like being number one in a tennis rank or golf list. It is an accomplishment that gives certain validation to your work. And it is a very different kind of competition. Most of the competitions are judged by singers now retired or in their way to retirement. This is a competition judged by impresarios and general managers. Also there are more than 40 other scouts for management, PR and companies there. If you score high with the people that hire, then I think is a very good sign of your possible potential. Another positive difference is that this is a world competition — you have to compete against the Latin tenors, the Russian beauties, the Korean baritones, the American superlatively trained musicians.
I think there are very few in the world that give so much money in prizes and accept singers from over the world. I was never a viable candidate because of my immigration status to compete in most of the famous competitions held at the US, so when I won this competition, certainly my career got a boost. Most importantly, it brought together my team.
Operalia and the L.A Opera Young Artist Program brought to my life my coach Anthony Manoli and my guru and agent Matthew Epstein. These men, together with my teacher, have helped me shape every aspect of my singing nowadays. They are constantly pushing for vocal excellence, correct preparation of the roles, appropriate rest time, the suggestion of having a little project every performance to improve something each time, and they ask me to retain a sense of every performance being better than the last. Also, of course, the help find me a lot of singing debuts. Ha ha!
What has been the greatest thrill in your career thus far? Greatest challenge?
The greatest challenge has been to understand that I was not yet ready. When I won Operalia, I was suddenly around the globe in operatic publications and magazines. I was mentioned in lists next to Ana María Martínez, Rolando Villazón, or Joseph Calleja. But I was really only an engineer. I needed high class training and on the speed of lightning. Thank God, Maestro Domingo and their family, the guys at CAMI (Columbia Artists Management, Inc.), and the people at the Merola Opera Program and Adler Fellowship Program at San Francisco Opera were there to calm me down. I needed help to understand that this career is not of speed but of continuous improvement.
In truth, the greatest thrill of my career so far was the three previous bars to start “Una furtiva lagrima” on stage at NYCO for my premiere. I sensed it was the make-it-or-break-it moment for me. It was just a phenomenal rush of adrenaline and the moment that every tenor dreams about. When I finished the aria, it was a very big moment for me. It made up for years of sacrifice, lonely times when you lose yourself and then later find you in a different corner of a different city, wearing the same clothes, but speaking another language and a different composer. It justified so many moments of tears. I was laughing and crying at the same time and I couldn’t stop for a long time after. It was at that moment that I had the sense of my OWN satisfaction with my own voice.
Do you have any favorites? Composer? Opera? Role? Venue?
I love Donizetti, and I am dying to sing more of it. Favorite operas: Dom Sébastien, La Fille du Regiment. Favorite role: Duca d’alba. It is like Donizetti wrote for voices like mine. I adore his lines and the extension. My personality is a combination of Nemorino, Rodolfo, and Werther. So each three roles are a treat for my soul when I have the opportunity to voice them.
You got rave reviews in all the NY press after your debut as Nemorino for NYC Opera. How does it feel to know NYC is dying to have you back to sing? Are you coming back–soon (fingers crossed)?
As you know, the opera world is very booked in advance but there have been talks for me to come back. It’s not yet possible for me to schedule a return, but I hope so in the future.
What is something most people don’t know about you, something not on your professional bio?
No one really understands how passionate I am about soccer. I have traveled the world for the experience of soccer in a stadium. I am a huge supporter of Manchester United and also my home team Barcelona. Just yesterday my country became champion of the world in the under 17 cup hosted in my birthplace, Mexico City. To see more than 100,000 voices singing “Cielito Lindo” brought tears to my eyes so far away.
Where can we see you in 2011-12?
I start my season with the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto doing the Duke in Rigoletto, then I go to Germany to sing Edgardo in Lucia at Deutsche Oper Berlin, and again the Duke in Karlsruhe with my dear Stefania Dovhan as Gilda. I am looking forward to my debut in Houston Grand Opera with Maestro Patrick Summers as Alfredo in La Traviata and also to my first major solo recital to be held in Birmingham, Alabama. My season concludes with Bohème in the magnificent summer festival at Glyndebourne.
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David is performing at Santa Fe Opera Festival through August 26, and is excited about Santa Fe’s upcoming Press Week (early August). He has a new website soon to launch, designed by the talented Catherine Pisaroni, who has created outstanding websites for many of today’s most renowned opera stars. You can also follow him on Twitter @davidlomelink, where he Tweets, con gusto, in Spanish and English.
By Gale Martin