Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Special guest star: David Lomelí, part the first

On Sunday I had the thrill of meeting and interviewing tenor David Lomeli, star of New York City Opera's L'Elisir d'Amore.  He made the time to see me even though he was to fly out later that day to France, where he will sing Macduff in Macbeth in Lille.  David was warm and charming and funny and a joy to chat with.  He brought along the lovely Meredith Lustig, who sang Gianetta in L'Elisir.  (I felt very bad for having neglected to mention Miss Lustig's flirty, sassy Gianetta in previous posts.)  I was very sad we could only find an hour to talk.

I skipped the normal questions about background and training, since all of that is in the bio at his managers' web site.  I dove right in with a question that's been weighing on my mind since opening night:  

David Lomeli with some guy off the street
The New York Times reviewer said "It was hard to tell if David Lomelí was laughing or crying at the warm, extended ovation that followed his big aria...."  Which was it?  

It was more tears than laughter.  It was a dream come true to come to NY.  Five years ago I was nowhere, with an engineering degree and singing in a pop band going nowhere.  Placido took me (after winning the Operalia Competition) and got me training and management.  To come here and have that reaction from the public....

I had to smile because there was a great sense of accomplishment.  It was my last big moment in the opera.  I'd had so many different ideas about how it was going to happen. I'd played it in my mind so many ways it would play out, and it was better than I'd expected.

Also, my grandmother was an opera singer, and she just passed in December.  I was in Berlin in the middle of singing Traviata, and things were moving very fast--a different Violetta every night, a different baritone--and I didn't have time to process everything.  It wasn't very easy, and I had to focus on getting through it all.  Now this was the first time I couldn't call her to tell her, "We got it.  We did it right."

It was happy and tears.  It was both.

Your next thing is Macduff in Lille?

Some people ask about going from New York City Opera to Lille, but it's a lovely theater.  It's good to try a new role in a smaller theater.  It has a lower tessitura--I normally don't sing in that tessitura so much.  I sing Don Ottavio, but the orchestration is lighter.  I really love to sing Mozart, but I don't get cast very much.  This low, heavy Verdi--the highest note is an A-double flat.  It will be a challenge.  Normally I hide behind my high notes.  If I don't have a great night, I still have my high C or my B-flat. Here, if I don't have a great night, I really won't have a great night.  It will be a challenge.

The guy who runs the casting in Lille also runs the casting in Munich and Glyndebourne.  I'm doing La Boheme in Glyndebourne next summer (2012) and in Munich.  It was a package deal.  It was like "You have to do Macduff, too."  (laughs)

Actually, I'm really excited to go to France.  This (NYCO) has been the highest height.  After the Times review and kind blogger reviews and the Financial Times--all the reviews were really nice, and it has opened so many doors, it will be good to go and hide a little bit and retrain and process.  (We then discussed some of the doors that have been opened or might be opening, but since nothing is signed, nothing gets written here.)  For me all of this is very exciting.  After all I've been through, and where I came from as a Mexican kid, every night I can go out and sing is a blessing.

"I hide behind my high notes"
You mentioned your repertoire--you've done Alfredo, Rodolfo, Don Ottavio--it straddles the lyrisch and italientisch (German fach) territory, which is exactly what I hear in your voice.  As you grow older--you're 29 now?--do you find yourself moving more toward italienisch repertoire?

Yeah.  I begin all my auditions with Che gelida manina.  I get cast in Italian roles.  It's hard because I love to sing in French.  I did two French roles in San Francisco--Faust and Werther.  I sing the full lyric repertoire.  I love to sing in French, but as Mexican with Italian background...

It started when I did Edgardo.  We did all the interpolated high notes and none of the cuts, so I did the E-flat, the D, the C sharp. It becomes a Rubini-ish role. You can also go and scream the role, but this was beautiful.  The conductor was Anthony Walker, and he was really great with pacing, because when you're not cutting a Donizetti score....  We did the standard cuts at City Opera (with L'Elisir), but if we'd done all the repeats and all the interpolated high notes--we snuck a few in--it would be another story!

I have Maria Stuarda coming up in Köln (exaggerating the o-umlaut) with Edita Gruberova (if she doesn't cancel) and I have Anna Bolena in Frankfurt--I'm singing Percy, which I really like.  (At this point your intrepid report cold barely contain a SQUEEEE!)

I love to sing passaggio and up.  It's weird.  Other tenors don't like it, but that's where I feel best.  At least while I'm young and I can do it, I would love to have my time there.  I would love to do roles like Roberto Devereux and Ernesto and Tonio in La Fille du Regiment.

Have you not done Tonio?!  (look of asonishment)

I used to be very heavy.  When I started in the States I was like 300 lbs.  Immediately after Operalia, Covent Garden asked me to sing Tosca, because someone had cancelled.  Placido was very protective and said, "Absolutely not!" But that was the type of thing I would be cast in because I was big and I was tall and I could scream good high notes, so they would go there.

The more I get in control of my weight, and I adjust my instrument to the changes...people say I look great, but I have to retrain my instrument in front of everyone.  For example, between the first and third shows I lost ten pounds, just by doing the show, and I've been cutting out things like sugars and carbonated drinks and exercising more.

I had to retrain the way I breathe.  Normally I would think laterally and it was fine, but suddenly when my belly was shrinking, I started to find that it was harder to engage fully in the passaggio--sometimes I would sing sharp, sometimes flat. For example there were times here (NYCO) where I was like, "Where are you, my support?"  When you're very tired you go for your first relflex, not your retrained technique.  This is the first time I was singing a full run and a full rehearsal process without the weight.  I know there were times when it wasn't right, but it got better.  Yesterday (the last show), it felt like I was in full control, and also on opening night.

But it's part of the training.  Everyone says Jonas Kaufmann is in his prime, and he's like 43?  42?  I'm 29.  I have time.

(When asked about body strength)  I was more physically agile, and it was easier to move.  I didn't find any difference in the color [of my voice], but I had to breathe differently and support differently.  I also feel more confident to try things.  Five months ago if someone had put me in a white T-shirt in front of an audience, I wouldn't have done it.  I still had some moments (miming fear), but I did it.

One of my favorite things about your Nemorino was how goofy you were!  How fearless you were in being the country bumpkin and the 12-year old with your heart on your sleeve.  How much of that was you?

David:  (Looking at Meredith)  What do you think?
Meredith:  A lot!

David:  I'm definitely extremely hyperactive.  Every day I would change something.  Every day I would try to invent something.  I was the one who always tried to break the ice and make a joke.  Most of the team was very goofy.  Especially Meredith, Stefania (Dovhan, who sang Adina) and me, we were always like the three of us....  I think the conductor and stage director got frustrated.

Meredith:  He's a lot of fun, and I think he opened the door for us to embrace those same qualities in our characters.

David:  I am an extremely blessed guy.  I grew up in a singer's family.  I have an engineering degree that gives me a little bit of the business side of it.  It has helped.  I'm very proud of what I've accomplished in five years, and I've been surrounded by great professionals and great people, but also I understand that it's a business.  I don't get upset about things that get to other people.  It's business.  If it happens it happens.

But also I've been blessed that I've been in other ways.  I was so poor when I tried to start singing opera.  I was cut off from family money.  I had to go to the worst part of Mexico City, and take three subways--in a city of 42 million that's a fun ride!--and I had to get on the subway at 4 in the morning for a 7 a.m. German class.  I was in a young artist program.  They don't give you a salary.  They pay the teachers, but not the singers.  I had an average of two dollars a week to eat on.  You can do that in Mexico City on two dollars, but it's not easy.  So when you're in New York and you're in this place (NYCO) and working with this kind of people, it's a joy every day.  There is no problem!

I also did a lot of improv in college.  Improv theater, a lot of comedy theater.  Mostly comedy.  A 300-lb. guy couldn't be the lead, but could be the funny guy.  So to come to New York City Opera and sing Nemorino as my debut--I knew there was no better role.  This role, the movement is the stage director and the acting coach, but the soul of that character is me.

Read part the second of this interview, here!


Erika Beth, the Messy Chef said...

Once again, BRAVO! to David. It was my first time seeing Elixir and I might be super judgemental of anyone else I see perform it since I loved David's version the most.
Here's my superficial question - he didn't loose weight when he only had $2 a week to spend on food in Mexico City?

Taminophile said...

In this country, healthy foods are often more expensive than processed, fattening foods.

And I can't speak for David, but I know from experience that if you're not ready to lose the weight, you find a way to keep it on.

Lucy said...

Love this! My impression of Lomeli as both super-sweet and super-talented is confirmed. Hope Part 2 is forthcoming. :) Also, cute pic!

Susan Morton said...

Very enjoyable reading, David.Thanks.

Prof M said...

¡Viva Lomelí! Thanks for the great interviews. I've had the pleasure of watching David Lomelí over the course of his Adler Fellowship at the San Francisco Opera. Every performance was a joy. (I thought he was getting smaller over the seasons; now I know it wasn't my imagination!) He comes across in this interview and on stage as charm itself. His expression of gratitude is especially poignant, considering how hard he has worked. I plan to add him to the syllabus of the Intro to Latin American Studies course I teach -- it would be wonderful to present the story and progress of someone who made it against the odds -- and is closer to my students' ages, for a change. Glad his career is going so very well, but many of us SF Opera-goers miss him. (Even a huge bari-hunk fan like me.)