Arturo Chacón-Cruz is currently with us singing The Duke of Mantua in one of our two casts of Verdi's Rigoletto. While this is his mainstage debut at San Francisco Opera, the Mexican tenor is no stranger to our stage--he was a Merola Opera Program participant in 2002! Of his debut on September 8, the San Francisco Chronicle wrote: "[Chacón-Cruz] stepped into the role for a company debut of enormous grace, charisma and stamina. Here, clearly, is a singer of major promise." The young tenor sat down to answer our questions about singing the Duke, his love of San Francisco and making opera accessible to the public.
1. You are a 2003 Merola Opera Program alumni. What is your best memory from that experience?
I have to say, the many (MANY) hours I had the pleasure to share with my dear friend "Jimmy" Schwabacher. It was so great to get to know him. We used to have dinner together almost every night, and work on repertoire afterwards. It was a privilege; it really made a mark in my life. I can't help to feel sad that he's gone, and he couldn't see my debut on an opera on the main stage. He would have been so happy. Also, I remember the exhaustion of working so hard every day. Merola was a great "boot camp" to really try our stamina and to make us feel serious about this business. No slacking!
Above: Arturo Chacón-Cruz as The Duke of Mantua
2. You have performed the role of The Duke of Mantua previously in a number of cities around the world. How does your experience here, in this production, and with this cast differ from those past productions?
Every cast is different and brings its particular energy and a sort of cohesion. I am lucky to be part of such a talented group of people. They welcomed me and let me be my own Duke. What I mean to say is that in many places, directors want "the" Duke (or any other character) that they either first saw, or the one they imagined. In this case, Harry Silverstein was very sensitive to help me find my place in every scene--letting me be my own Duke. This is rare and very appreciated. When I perform, I like to be true to my convictions of the character; and in this case, I was allowed to grow into a more mature and thought-out Duke. The chemistry with Albina is great. She's a very intuitive and talented performer. She is very accommodating and a joy to work with.
This production stays true to the libretto and the music. In this case, we have an original rendition (and by original, I don't mean "it's so original--different from what we hear normally") since this is what Verdi wrote originally
... Maestro Luisotti has encouraged us to sing the "come scritto" without the ornaments and traditions that have been added to the score along the years.
This production has a very exciting life and energy. I am lucky to be a part of it.
3. You were called to San Francisco at late notice to replace a singer who withdrew from the production. What was it like entering a cast later in the process and with little notice?
Above: Arturo Chacón-Cruz as the Duke with Albina Shagimuratova as Gilda
I find it energizing to jump in when things are the busiest. I particularly like this, because it doesn't let me bring my guard down. Every rehearsal from that point on is important, and the energy levels are high. I am used to little rehearsal. I sing a lot in Germany and do many reprisals with just a few days (sometimes hours) of rehearsals. I think this is a very good skill to master (to jump into a production and try to make it seem like you were there the whole time!) since you never know who might call :)
4. You are here in San Francisco during one of the most beautiful times of year. What do you plan to do on some of your days off?
Oh boy! There's no rest for the wicked. I am studying 3 operas right now. Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor
, and Verdi's Simon Boccanegra
and I due Foscari
--so studying it has been and studying it will be. I have managed to go on long walks while listening to music on my ipod. My legs hate me--it had been over 9 years since I walked the Mountains you have for streets here in San Francisco! :) Even though I bike back at home, there's no way I will risk breaking a leg biking down a hill here, so walking suits me! And this weather--it's been perfect this year. The charm of San Francisco is unique, I enjoy it tremendously!
5. This past weekend you participated in our free Opera in the Park concert (and you and your colleagues seemed to enjoy yourselves onstage!). Do you think free community events are an important thing for opera companies to do these days? Why?
Above: Arturo Chacón-Cruz and three fellow tenors sing an amusing encore of
"O Sole Mio" at Opera in the Park
Definitely it has to be like this. We have to bring people in. Break the notions of opera being boring or not fun...because it IS fun and it will make a difference in your life. There is only one way to bring in the new generations, and that is to make it accessible to everybody.
I always think that scientists should perform a study, of what opera does to a person's brain, and after that, a social study to see how their lives benefit from music and the feelings that opera stirs in them. Then we would get all the government funding, and grants up the wazoo!
Opera changes your life, it makes you more alive and in tune with your environment, when the young generations allow themselves to live these experiences, they will keep opera alive forever!
All photos by Cory Weaver.