Songs and arias by Malavasi, Tosti, Gardel/La Pera, Fields/Kern, de la Luz, Britten, Sorozabal, Torroba, and Puccini. Joshua Guerrero, tenor., Andrea Grant, piano. Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, Four Seasons Centre. Jan. 23, 2018.
For Toronto tenor fans, the cup truly runneth over this winter. The COC’s Rigoletto that opened last week featured the spectacular singing of American tenor Stephen Costello as the Duke of Mantua. In two weeks, we’ll get to hear the Canadian debut of the superb Swiss tenor Mauro Peter, as Belmonte in The Abduction from the Seraglio. As if that’s not enough, there is a third tenor, American Joshua Guerrero, who just made his Canadian debut yesterday, in a free noon-hour concert at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, Four Seasons Centre.
As a follower of the Domingo Operalia competition, Joshua Guerrero had been on my radar screen for some time. His career took off after winning Second Prize at Operalia 2014. He made his European debut in 2015 as Gabriele Adorno in Simon Boccanegra at Bordeaux. A former young artist at the Santa Fe Opera, Guerrero stepped in to replace an indisposed Stephen Costello in the July 29 performance of SFO’s Romeo et Juliette. Sadly I missed him by one performance, but I did hear the resplendent singing of a fully recovered Costello in the next show. Costello is, of course, the other Duke of Mantua currently at the COC.
Critics have been uniform in their praise of Guerrero. Anthony Tommasini of the New York Times calls him “a gifted young tenor.” His Gabriele Adorno was noted for its “youthful impulsiveness” and “perceptible lyricism.” Based on the many video clips of his performances on Youtube, I cannot agree more. His singing “Torna ai felici di” from Le villi which earned him Second Prize at Operalia was remarkable for its bright, focused and gorgeous tone, complete with a thrilling top:
Here’s another one, an aria from the zarzuela Luisa Fernanda, in the same competition, conducted by Domingo:
Given his three performances of Rigoletto are scheduled later in the run, Guerrero made his Canadian debut in this noon-hour concert at the RBA. It was a real pleasure to finally hear him in person, and it wasn’t just any old recital, but one with a personal touch. How often does one get to hear a concert with a name like “My Story through Song”?! I’ve attended countless recitals in over 50 years, but his was unique in being truly, intensely personal. He explained to the audience that he came to opera in a most circuitous fashion, singing ten songs that have special meaning for him.
He spoke of growing up Mexican American, the son of divorced parents in Las Vegas, of studying in the seminary with the intention of entering the priesthood. But he fell in love with music and ended up working in the Venetian (casino) as a gondolier! His recounting of living in Macau for two years to train other gondoliers there brought gales of laughter from the audience. His early love of singing was inspired by Andrea Bocelli’s singing of “Romanza.” Given his exposure to pop culture in Las Vegas, Guerrero showed off his exceptionally stylish pop voice, offering the audience Neapolitan numbers the likes of “A vucchella” and “Marechiare” to Sinatra-style crooning of “The Way You Look Tonight.” He even threw in “Santa Lucia” not listed in the program!
From the first note on, one is struck by his bright, clear, totally focused, beautiful lyric tenor, forwardly placed, Italianate in timbre, with an easy top. It possesses a sunny Latin quality that’s truly endearing. His vibrato is distinctive but not obtrusive, with just the right frequency and intensity, an indication of a very healthy instrument technically. Later in the concert, he talked about being accepted (unexpectedly) into the LA Opera, and Placido Domingo became his life-long mentor. Throughout the recital, U of T pianist/coach Andrea Grant offered solid support, as always.
Being of Mexican parentage and under the tutelage of Domingo, Guerrero is superb in zarzuela, which he showcased in the great arias “No puede ser” and “De Este Apacible Rincon.” I have to say I was surprised he didn’t win the Zarzuela Prize in Operalia that year, despite his excellence. He ended the formal part of this recital with the Puccini aria that won him Second Prize, “Torna ai felici di,” sung with beauty of tone and expression. The very impressed audience gave him a standing ovation. Given the amount of music and talk, it was already past 1 p.m., but the very generous Mr. Guerrero sang an encore, the perennial favourite, nearly obligatory “Granada.”
My final thoughts? Do not miss Joshua Guerrero as the Duke of Mantua this season! And it’s nice to know that next season, he’ll return as Rodolfo in La boheme. I, for one. look forward to his Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly this summer at the Santa Fe Opera.
LUDWIG VAN TORONTO