Tenor Joshua Guerrero has lived more lives in his 30s than most people do in 80 years. He spent his early years split between two cities, worked a plethora of jobs in different fields before he eventually pursued opera as his main career. The former Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist has since sung at opera houses all over the world, including English National Opera, The Glyndebourne Festival and, most recently, Santa Fe Opera. Though his innate talent and hard work has led him to where he is today, he credits much of his success to his time at LA Opera.
“LAO has been so influential in my career, and they are the house that I keep going back to,” said Guerrero.
We caught up with Guerrero in Santa Fe, where he recently finished a run of his signature role as B.F. Pinkerton in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly alongside Ana María Martínez. Though he was always musically inclined, opera wasn’t something he initially sought to pursue. Growing up, Guerrero split his time between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, calling himself “a child of two cities.”
“I spent about 17 years in each city,” said Guerrero. “But I’ve LA home for nearly ten years, since about late 2008 to early 2009 when I was originally out there.”
Though music was an obvious passion of his since childhood, he didn’t originally consider it as a full-time career. Instead, he worked in social work and spent his weekend gigging as a musician. He even had a stint as a gondola singer at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas. However, his voice teacher at the time told him about the Palm Springs Opera Guild and the subsequent competition through the organization. He competed from 2009 to 2012, taking fourth place in both 2010 and 2011. It was through the connections he made in Palm Springs that he was put in touch with the vocal faculty at UCLA, which is what jump started his budding operatic career.
“I was a young singer and was really encouraged to discover what it was I had, and to go further and explore that,” Guerrero continued.
At UCLA, Guerrero studied with Vladimir Chernov, who has sung with LA Opera many times in the past. With encouragement from Chernov and his other mentors, he auditioned for LAO’s Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program, and was accepted in the 2012/13 season. Though Guerrero feels he was not yet a “finished product,” he commends LA Opera for taking risks on singers who posses natural talent.
“The beauty with LA Opera is that they take some gambles with talent. Sometimes, the singers they accept aren’t necessarily a polished piece that’s ready to go out into the world. It’s raw talent that they’re willing to put the work into and to refine, and to go out to raise the company’s banner. And I think they’ve had some major successes with that,” Guerrero stated.
During his three seasons as a Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist, Guerrero sang a myriad of supporting roles, such as Normanno in Lucia di Lammermoor and Steve Hubbell in A Streetcar Named Desire, and would go on to sing Count Almaviva in The Ghosts of Versailles and Greenhorn in Jake Heggie’s Moby-Dick as a principal artist. Though he was placed on-stage early on, the first part of his time as a young artist was spent learning the fundamentals.
“As you can imagine, the first two years were pretty rough because I was very green and I had to basically play catch up,” Guerrero continued. “I had to learn repertoire, technique, IPA and languages, and learn so many new things that took quite a bit of time.”
Guerrero soon caught up, and his career skyrocketed following his graduation from the Domingo-Colburn-Stein program. His “big break” came in 2016, when he stepped into the title role at the eleventh-hour in Gounoud’s Roméo et Juliette at Santa Fe Opera. The performance was met with great acclaim, and was praised for his “heroic, beautiful sound” by Washington Post.
However, it is the role of Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly that has proved to be his pièce de résistance. The role is notorious as one of the most hated characters in operatic history, given the fact that (spoiler alert!) he abandons Butterfly in her most vulnerable state. However, Guerrero doesn’t make any excuses for him. In fact, he sees Pinkerton as being a tragic character himself.
“I think what makes the story even more tragic is to give more dimension to Pinkerton. I think he’s definitely a product of his time, which it doesn’t justify or excuse any of the things that he does,” Guerrero says. “He’s very much American, very reckless and youthful, and indeed powerful and rich. He’s in charge of a lot of people and he’s a very powerful guy, and in turn there are certain attitudes that go along with that.”
Following his run in Santa Fe, Guerrero has a slew of debuts ahead. He makes his Washington National Opera debut in October as Alfredo in Verdi’s La Traviata, in a new production by Francesca Zambello. He then tours with a trio created by Columbia Artists called the Bel Canto Trio, followed by a few concerts and masterclasses in South America. He is also excited to make his Houston Grand Opera debut this spring as Arcadio in Daniel Catán’s Florencia en el Amazonas, once again alongside Ana María Martínez.
Though is plate is full for the foreseeable future, he’s ecstatic for where this career will eventually lead him.
“I’m really, really excited about what the future has to hold. And I think that’s all I can say at the moment.”LA Opera is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to the greater good.