Opera star’s big break at Disneyland

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Mexican tenor JESUS LEON will be touring Scotland with Scottish Opera’s current production La Traviata as one of the two singers – along with Robyn Lyn Evans – playing Violetta’s young lover Alfredo. Jesus first sang as part of a rock band before moving into opera and developing his voice and his repertoire. Below, he answered some of Margaret Chrystall’s questions.

1 I believe you sang in a rock band called Garage before you began to study opera singing in 1996. Was your early ambition to be a rock star? And would you have been a good one with outrageous rock star behaviour?

Yes, my early ambition was to a rock star and there are so many videos of my band, Garage, on YouTube. However, I became a musician because of the Beatles. I heard all of their music when I was growing up because my family would play their records all the time at home. I guess that is why I first became interested in playing the guitar. As for rock star behaviour, I did really fancy breaking some guitars on stage but never had enough money to buy the replacement!

Jesus (seated) and Benjamin Bevan. Picture: KK Dundas.

2 I understand that a big break for you came when you visited Disneyland, went to an Italian restaurant and sang and were discovered? What exactly happened?

I was living in Mexico, singing at weddings and other such events, as well as singing Italian music every Thursday in a local hotel.

Then, in the summer of 2004, I visited Disneyland in Los Angeles with my family.

My aunt asked me if I wanted to sing in an Italian restaurant called Vitellos in Studio City, where people go to the restaurant, not only to eat but to sing.

There was such a long list of people waiting to sing, so I had to wait ages.

However, by luck, that night there were not only opera fans, but professional opera singers from around the world there, including a well-renowned teacher from LA.

I remember that I sang Una Furtiva Lagrima and thereafter people asked me to sing another aria, which I did and I received so many compliments. I was so excited by all of their comments! I was fortunate enough to be introduced to a number of important people who gave me contacts of people in the opera industry in LA.

Of course, I phoned them the very next day.

I did my first auditions and in the same week was awarded a scholarship from the UCLA Opera Studio, as well as support from other sponsors. Since then, I can compare opera singing to a visit to Disneyland: a real joy!

3 I also wanted to ask if with tenors like yourself and Rolando Villazon whether Mexico is still firmly on the map in the 21st century as a rich source of opera talent? Have you and Rolando met on the opera circuit and did you know of each other as young opera students?

I think Mexico has produced a canon of great tenors, such as Plácido Domingo, Ramón Vargas, Rolando Villazón and Francisco Araiza.

I feel privileged to be a tenor from Mexico and follow in their footsteps.

I first met Rolando Villazón in 2006 when I was a Young Artist with the Los Angeles Opera and he was already having a lot of success singing Romeo et Juliette.

I sang for him and he was the first person who inspired me to come to Europe.

Scottish Opera’s touring production with piano-accompaniment of La Traviata goes to Plockton High on Saturday, the Aros Centre, Portree, on Tuesday, Strathpeffer Pavilion next Thursday (Oct 4), the Craigmonie Centre, Drumnadrochit, on Thursday, October 11, the Macphail Theatre, Ullapool, on Tuesday, October 23, and Nairn Community & Arts Centre, on Saturday, October 27.

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