Colombian tenor David Guzman has been highly regarded by critics for his exquisite beauty of tone and impeccable musicianship in opera, oratorio, and zarzuela. He plays the role of Rafael in Cruzar la Cara de la Luna (To Cross the Face of the Moon). I had the honor of speaking with David Guzman in regards to the upcoming shows of Cruzar la Cara de la Luna with Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan and the Houston Grand Opera recently.
How did you get started in music?
I actually started singing and playing pop music in bars in Colombia.
How did you transition from pop music to opera?
When I finished high school I debated whether or not I should study music. The opportunities, at the time, in Colombia, weren’t that great for music majors so I studied engineering. But I went back to music and during this time competed as a duet act in national competitions for Colombian folklore music with a friend of mine. We won the Mono Nuñez Festival competition which is the most important event in Colombian Andean music. After winning this competition and others, people told me “you’re talented but you need to study more.” So I went back to school and had a wonderful teacher named Rocio Rios who taught me about music and opera. She gave me lessons and the confidence to further my study in opera. I came to the U.S. and did a masters in music performance from Texas Christian University. I really improved my technique with Richard Estes, a teacher and the head of the opera program at the University. I graduated with a maters degree in Music Performance from Texas Christian University in 2006.
Do you like mariachi music?
Of course. Colombians loves Mexican music. Back in the golden age of Mexican Cinema, we learned about mariachi music and all of the great performers and writers like Pedro Infante and Augustine Lara. Mariachis are as famous in Colombia as they are in Mexico. We only had 3 television stations when I was growing up in Colombia and they would broadcast all of the Mexican movies on one of the stations. The trio is also very popular in Colombia.
How do you feel about playing in a mariachi opera?
When they invited me to be a part of Cruzar La Cara de La Luna I was wondering what it would be like. Lenard Foglia did a wonderful job in putting the opera together and I was part of workshops that were part of the early development of the opera. It’s a wonderful piece of work. The music is powerful. Mariachi music is colorful and beautiful and the opera has all of the elements that make a show successful. The lyrics are amazing, the story is wonderful and realistic and touches on topics that have important meaning for Latinos like love and immigration. It’s a very powerful piece.
How do like working with Mariachi Vargas?
They are famous. They are stars. When I first met them in Houston I was doubting that this was going to work but it went really well. They are professionals, they know the music, they have a huge history, they are fantastic. Although they’d never worked with an opera before, it was a perfect fit for them because they are world class musicians.
What has been one of the music events you have been most proud of?
I can’t really name just one because all of the pieces are so different. I’m really proud of the mariachi opera because it’s so different but I’ve done so many things. I’m really proud of Cruzar La Cara de La Luna because it’s the first time I’m working with a really big company The Houston Grand Opera (HGO). I was proud to travel with HGO to perform at the prestigious Theater Chatelet in Paris, France. It’s an iconic theater and it was an honor to perform there.
How do you prepare for the opera?
I usually start the night before. I try to sleep really well. I try not to talk to much. I try to rest and review the score. Then the day of the performance, I try to relax at home or in the hotel. I try to just relax and talk only when needed. I try to focus on the show. A few hours before the show I prepare to go to the theater. An hour before the show, I get dressed, I warm up, I do a little singing. I have a routine. I like to do about 15 minutes of yoga exercises. I like to stretch my arms, my back, my legs. Then I do some scales from the bottom to the top of my voice for about 10-15 minutes. I do some humming, some vowel exercises, middle c to high c, with vowels. I might sing a few versus from a song and that’s it.
Where are you originally from?
I’m from a city in Colombia called Ibague – about 200 miles from Bogota.
Do you ever return to your home in Colombia to perform?
I went back in November last year and performed for a festival in Bogota called “Opera in the Park.” I was part of the finalists in this festival in 2004. They invited me to perform in the 3 Colombian tenors in November and it went quite well. In 2012 I performed in Barranquilla near the coast of Colombia. This is where my family lives. I performed in the city theater. Every time I have the opportunity I go and love to perform in my community and for my family.
Is there any one particular part of Cruzar La Cara de La Luna that is especially emotional for you?
It’s interesting you ask that because we were talking with the cast members of the opera…..most are immigrants….and we were asking ourselves where is home for you? I’m from Colombia but I live in New York. When I’m in New York I miss Colombia, when I’m in Colombia, I miss New York.
When we were in France, we were wondering if people could relate to this story about immigration. But we talked to people that went to the show and they really connected with the love story angle between my parents (I play the character Rafael). They related more to the love story than the immigration part of it but certainly they loved it. We were really amazed. The people who worked in the theater told us that the audience was really, really touched. When they were giving us standing ovations the backstage workers were very happy for us as this doesn’t happen often.
Colombian tenor David Guzman has been highly regarded by critics for his exquisite beauty of tone and impeccable musicianship in opera, oratorio, and zarzuela. He plays the role of Rafael in Cruzar la Cara de la Luna (To Cross the Face of the Moon)