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Meeting Nieto was a start but the decisive moment, turning him from the path of priesthood to the path of opera, came in 1992. At an end of term concert, he sang Una Furtiva Lagrima before an audience of fifteen hundred. His mentor, a Catholic priest, came up to Villazon afterwards and told him that his destiny was to be an opera singer, not a priest, and that he must go audition for the conservatory at once.

Villazon went there the next day and auditioned, singing an aria from La Bohème while clutching a pillow as his imaginary Mimi. He was accepted but again his path became somewhat less than straight almost at once. To finance his studies, Villazon taught history part-time. No sooner had he started than he considered abandoning singing to become a full-time teacher. But behind every great man usually stands a great woman and Lucia, now a psychologist, would hear nothing of it. She threatened not to marry Rolando if he refused to follow his dream of becoming an opera singer. Villazon decided to continue his studies, under Enrique Jaso. He started performing some smaller Rossini and Mozart parts. After he had easily won two national opera competitions in Mexico, the famous baritone Gabriel Mijares became his mentor, smoothing the path of his young charge for an international career.

Things happened from there and in 1998, Villazon came to the San Franciso Opera to join the Merola Opera Program there and also to sing his first Alfredo in Verdi's La Traviata. He then went on to the young artists' program of the Pittsburgh Opera, where his performances included Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor. In 1999 he won a prize in the Placido Domingo Operalia singing competition and immediately received an offer from Covent Garden in London to sing Der Rosenkavalier there. Wisely, he declined, feeling that it would be more advisable to nurture his talent slowly. Covent Garden was very understanding of the young man who did not feel ready yet for London. One day he was ready and for the past years he has sung at some of the best opera houses, performing with the world's best singers. In 2001, Villazon caused a sensation when singing Rudolfo in La Bohème at the Bregenz Opera Festival. In October 2003 he made his New York Met début in La Traviata with Renée Fleming. On that occasion, Classics Today wrote: 'The most promising tenor début since Juan Diego Florez.'

Rolando Villazon
Rolando Villazon

Villazon has also sung with Anna Netrobko: La Traviata, and in Los Angeles Romeo et Juliette. The audience reaction to on-stage Villazon was always the same, wherever he appeared: here is someone who cannot, and must not, be ignored. When Daniel Barenboim met Villazon in Berlin for the first time, his greeting words to the young tenor were: 'They tell me you are wonderful.'

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Copyright © 31 May 2004 Tess Crebbin, Germany


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