Monday, January 19, 2015

ARTISTS CORNER: Tenor Rafael Davila

Tenor Rafael Dávila has quickly risen to be one of the most sought after tenors of his generation. The 2015 Winter Festival Season will mark the tenors 10th season with Sarasota Opera and the return to one of his most celebrated roles with the company; Cavaradossi in Puccini’s Tosca. With almost 60 roles already under his belt, Mr. Dávila just completed performances as Des Grieux in Puccini’s Manon Lescaut conducted by Maestro Plácido Domingo in Valencia, Spain. Other recent appearances include the historic Teatro San Carlo in Naples, Italy, Washington National Opera, Kansas City Opera, Opera de Puerto Rico, and Minnesota Opera. This season, Mr. Dávila will make his debut at the Chicago Lyric Opera in the world premiere of the opera Bel Canto
Continue reading to learn more about this dynamic artist. 
Q. Where are you originally from and where do you make your home now?
A. I was born in Chicago, Illinois but my parents moved back to Puerto Rico when I was still a baby. I grew up in Puerto Rico and that’s where I have been living since I finished my Master’s degree in Opera at the University of Texas in Austin.

Rafael Davila at Cavaradossi in 2009
at Sarasota Opera
Q. What was your first moment performing in front of an audience on stage?
A. Because of my choral experience I was invited to sing in the male chorus for the opera Rigoletto and that was my first encounter with opera.

Q. Did you have other career aspirations in the works before you decided on singing?  
A. When I was invited to sing in the local opera productions in Puerto Rico in the chorus I was pursuing a doctorate degree in Optometry. As I began my Optometry practice with patients I realized I could not see myself doing that for the rest of my life and that would rather prefer to devote my life to music.

Q. You have sung many of the great leading tenor roles here in Sarasota. Do you have a favorite production?
A. I am so grateful to Sarasota Opera for all the opportunities it has given me over the years to try so many different and new roles. I have many favorite productions but I would definitely have to say Tosca is one of them along with the beautiful production of Madama Butterfly, Otello, and Cav/Pag.

Q. What do you want the audience to know about the character of Cavaradossi after the curtain comes down?
A. I want the audience to know that Cavaradossi is a man of principles even if it means sacrificing what it is most important in his life.

Q. I imagine you are looking forward to performing this role again in Sarasota.  What do you enjoy about singing at Sarasota Opera?
A. Sarasota has been my second home for the past decade but professionally it has been my first home. It has been the perfect place to try so many new roles in a very friendly atmosphere. A beautiful theater so comfortable to sing and try new things and all the time spent preparing the production with the opportunity of singing so many performances until you feel as a singer you own the role.

Rafael Davila as Des Grieux in
Manon Lescaut in Valencia, Spain

Q. You just performed the role of Chevalier des Grieux in Puccini’s Manon Lescaut in Spain with Placido Domingo conducting. Was this your first time working with the great tenor? 
A. This invitation from maestro Domingo came after I worked with him for the first time in 2013 when I was hired to cover Cavaradossi with Los Angeles Opera. I had to do most of the rehearsals because the tenor who was singing the performances would arrive late due to other engagements. Immediately after the first rehearsals Domingo offered me the Des Grieux which he knew would fit perfectly in my voice.

Q. What is it like being lead by such an iconic figure in opera like Maestro Domingo?
A. Imagine being conducted by someone you admired growing up and whom I have seen singing this type of repertory. He offered many recommendations on all sorts of different topics; vocally, musically, personal, and professional which of course I will follow coming from somebody who has being as successful in this profession as him. But what really touched me about maestro Domingo is his kindness, his energy and how, with all the things he must have in his mind, he could remember every person and every single detail.

Rafael Davila with famed
tenor Placido Domingo
Q. Thus far, what is the most bizarre experience you have had during a rehearsal and/or a performance anywhere?
A. The stage is a place where many things can go wrong with catastrophic results. There are many anecdotes in a performer’s life but for me, so far the worst experience happened as I was singing my opening night of Pagliacci last summer at the San Carlo Theater in Naples. It was a kind of Cirque du Soliel production where the stage was filled with water and they brought a new soprano at the last moment who didn’t have much time to rehearse on stage under those circumstances. Almost at the end of the opera I was supposed to push her and she slipped on the water and fell on her face breaking her nose. Yet she was able to stand with her face full of blood and finished the performance.

Q. Do you have any pre-performance rituals?  Performance superstitions?  Good luck charms?  If yes, why?
A. Not really, just rest well, eat well and warm up as much as possible, often singing the whole opera in the dressing room before going onstage.

Rafael Davila in the title role of
Otello at Sarasota Opera
Q. How do you relax in between performances?  What hobbies do you enjoy at home and “on the road”?
A. Because of all the demanding roles I have been singing in the past years, the time between performances are used to rest and recover for the next performance. So I end up watching a lot of TV when I am on the road or going to the movies to catch up with the latest releases I haven’t seen. When I am in a new city I like to explore the city and go to the museums. When I am home I just try to forget about everything and enjoy the most with my relatives and friends.

Q. I’m sure work/life balance takes on a whole different meaning being a professional singer who travels. How do you stay connected to family and friends when you are “on the road?  
A. Now with the internet everything is so much easier. I remember all the money I spent on calling cards on my first trips to places like Italy and New Zealand. I have to talk daily with my wife and daughter to be able to relax knowing they are fine. Now with Skype I can talk with them for hours while seeing each other. I always try to bring my family with me whenever they are free to join me. I try to always schedule my engagements so I can go home in between. Now that my daughter is going to University I will try to bring my wife with me as often as possible.

Q. As we have people that travel from around the United States to attend performances at Sarasota Opera, are there any towns or cities that you have a strong connection with whether from growing up or attending school?
A. As I mentioned before, I was born in Chicago but don’t know the city at all. I was able to go back two summers ago to audition for the Chicago Lyric Opera Company and will be making my debut with them this year, so I am really looking forward to get to know the city where I was born, even if it will be during the cold winter. Apart from that, Austin, Texas where I studied my Master’s degree in Opera Performance and also where I started my career as a young artist for the Austin Lyric Opera. I was then invited as a guest artist for the next three seasons to do my debuts as Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly, The Duke of Mantua in Rigoletto, and Alfredo in La Traviata.

Don't miss seeing Mr. Davila's performance as Cavaradossi in Puccini's Tosca opening at Sarasota Opera on February 7th and running for 12 performances through March 28th. Tickets are available at or by calling (941) 328-1300. 

As a special treat, here is a clip of Mr. Davila singing the aria "E lucevan le stele" from the 2009 production of Tosca at Sarasota Opera. 

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