Before he ever conceived of a career in opera, renowned tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz still spent most of his week singing. While studying engineering in his hometown of Hermosillo, Mexico, Chacón-Cruz sang with local trios, mariachis, and even as the lead singer serenading women for other men who were proposing. He was so passionate about singing that his mother signed him up for a voice lesson with an opera coach. At first, Chacón-Cruz protested, but the 15 minutes he spent with his first coach changed the course of his entire life.
“I told my mother, ‘Nobody likes opera. It’s so antiquated,’ but like a good son, I went to the lesson. The teacher – Jesus Li Cecilio – had me wait and I heard him working with another student. I thought, ‘This isn’t so bad.’ Then it was my turn and after hearing me sing for a few minutes, Li Cecilio said that I have a future in opera,” says Chacón-Cruz. He continues, “Those 15 minutes turned into the rest of my life and I couldn’t be happier.” Later, Chacón-Cruz studied music in Mexico City, where he met Plácido Domingo for the first time in 2000. He had been singing baritone until then, but Domingo (who also started his career as a baritone) suggested he sing tenor. For the past 15 years, Domingo has been Chacón-Cruz’s greatest mentor. The two have worked together often, notably when Domingo conducted Chacón-Cruz for the first time during the 2005 Operalia competition (where Chacón-Cruz won the Don Plácido Domingo Zarzuela Prize, the CulturArte de Puerto Rico Prize, and a role in Valencia Opera’s production of Alfano’s Cyrano de Bergerac opposite Domingo) and in the last decade during his many roles at LA Opera.
“I love this company,” Chacón-Cruz says of LA Opera. “It does feel like being home.”
Chacón-Cruz made his first LA Opera appearance in 2007 in Verdi’s Requiem, honoring the late Luciano Pavarotti, and returned a few months later for his mainstage debut as Rodolfo in La Bohème. He has also starred in Florencia en el Amazonas (2014), La Traviata (2014), and Gianni Schicchi (2015).
His experience opposite Plácido Domingo in La Traviata holds great personal significance.
“Many years ago, I sang in the chorus in a production of La Traviata in Mexico,” he recalls. “I saw a pair of shoes that looked really cool. I picked them up and they said ‘Plácido Domingo’ on them. They were a little big on me, but I wanted them anyway. I thought to myself, ‘Maybe one day I will sing Alfredo in La Traviata with Plácido Domingo as the father.’ At the time, this dream seemed as far-fetched as aliens coming to Earth, but in 2014 this happened at LA Opera. It was dream come true.”
This month, Chacón-Cruz is back at LA Opera playing the role of Macduff opposite Domingo as the title character in Verdi’s Macbeth. It is another wonderful chance to work with his mentor in a production that is much darker than the composer’s other work.
His character Macduff is a beacon of hope amidst the murder and betrayal instigated by Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. “Macbeth is just betrayal after betrayal. In the opera, you’re getting Verdi’s greatest sorrow and his darkest ideas. The music is so real. You hear all of the sadness and how the characters are losing their own humanity,” says Chacón-Cruz.
“Playing the good guy is a big responsibility, because it would be so easy to fall into the dark mood of the other characters. You sing this amazing aria – ‘Ah, la paterna mano’ – which is probably one of the top five arias ever. It’s so complete and full of life that it is a gift for any tenor to sing this part. It is also a challenge, because it is a short chance to make the audience remember that there’s hope in this world.”
With this dark story and masterful production (directed and co-designed by Tony Award-winner Darko Tresjnak), Chacón-Cruz hopes to evoke emotion in the audience. He will sing during the September performances and then go off to sing in Macbeth, La Traviata, and The Damnation of Faust in various productions around the world.
And to think this all started with one 15-minute voice lesson.
For more information about and to purchase tickets to Macbeth, click here.
LA Opera is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to the greater good.