Big news: Spanish-American #Tenor Joel Prieto debuts Saturday, Jan. 28 with Los Angeles Opera, as Belmonte (also a debut), in #Mozart’s German-language opera Die Entführung aus dem Serail, which roughly translates: Abducted from the Harem. And just as you expect from #Everything Music and Theatre, Blasting News nabbed an exclusive interview with the singer, whose ready, sparkling laughter graced his tales of growing up, his career highlights and the peek he gives of the new production that opens tonight.
Joel Prieto—born in Madrid but raised in Cayey, Puerto Rico—speaks beautiful Spanish with a Madrilenian accent that has somehow escaped Caribbean influence. At age 5 he began to study violin, and at age 6 joined San Juan Children’s Choir. This led to world travels and a variety of performance experiences, including a stage appearance in Puccini’s La bohème led by the eminent Roberto Abbado and starring the inimitable Mirella Freni as Mimì. He was hooked and knew he had to make a career on the world’s opera stages.
He really likes Mozart
“Mozart is my favorite composer,” says Joel Prieto, who interprets his most important roles: Ferrando (Così fan tutte); Don Ottavio (Don Giovanni); and his signature role, Prince Tamino (Die Zauberflöte). Even Contino Belfiore in La finta giardinera—oft-neglected—he has performed at least 35 times in three productions, including his debuts at Glyndebourne, U.K., and Santa Fe, N.M. “I never imagined that it would turn out to be such an important role for me.”
Joel Prieto cites vocal coach Patricia McCaffrey as “a musical mother to me during at least 12 years. Spiritually she is my rock mass.” Awestruck, he says “Plácido Domingo is such a giving person, a genius who does everything.” And Salzburg Festival’s Artistic Director, Evamaria Wieser, “was one of the first people to give me the opportunity to do something important,” including covering a major role (Ferrando) and debuting as Don Ottavio. “She always tells me the truth.” Through her he met conductor Ivor Bolton.
Baby face but full-grown voice
The tenor looks all of 23 but just turned 35. He steadily rises on the rungs of respectable recognizability. Sample the embedded videos of his performances of just two staples from the Spanish art song and Italian operatic repertoire, and you will agree that the lithe, lyrical voice that caresses each word with a gorgeous velvet tone indeed belongs to someone fully developed.
Belmonte is an insensitive cad, but his divinely elegant vocal line can make you forget his misogyny. In Act I, he sings two gorgeous arias and a third—notoriously difficult—in Act III. James Robinson, “a director of intelligent vision,” places the action in the Roaring Twenties, set on a Paris-bound train from Istanbul. “It’s the best concept I have ever seen for this opera,” claims Mr. Prieto, “very intelligently done, and super funny,” something for which this opera is not particularly known.
“In this production,” says the tenor, “Belmonte starts out selfish, a flawed man. His yacht sinks. But instead of saving his beloved Konstanze, he rescues his tennis racket and wallet.” Konstanze “is conflicted when reuniting with Belmonte, because he abandoned her. But Pasha Selim’s wealth also torments her, since, in this production, she’s a bit materialistic.”
Eyed by the Met
Joel Prieto has performed throughout Europe, but also Japan, Puerto Rico, Chile, Russia...and has appeared in several U.S. opera houses already, including Houston, Washington, D.C., Santa Fe, and Palm Beach, California. So why has he not yet debuted at New York’s Metropolitan Opera? “The Met studies singers extensively before contracting them. Their people have been tracking me since 2014. Negotiations are underway for my debut, but nothing has been settled yet.” So hurry up, Peter Gelb!