Concurso San Miguel singer’s triumph in Mexico City Aida

By Shari Alexander

Providing further proof that Concurso San Miguel is discovering the most promising young opera singers in Mexico, Aida, Verdi’s grandest of grand operas was given four performances in November in Mexico City, starring three young singers first discovered by San Miguel’s eponymous contest. Sponsored by Opera San Miguel, the Concurso identified early on the talents of soprano Fabiola Venegas, who sang the title role; tenor José Manuel Chu as her love interest, Radamés; and baritone Ricardo López who portrayed her father, Amonasro. Since Concurso San Miguel helped bring them to prominence, Ms. Venegas in 2008, Mr. Chu and Mr. López in 2009, all three have embarked on international careers! This year’s Concurso is scheduled for Saturday, March 8, at Teatro Ángela Peralta.

The production, presented by the Instituto Polytecnico Nacional (IPN), boldly transferred the opera’s action from Egypt in the time of the Pharoahs to Aztec-era Mexico, circa 1450. The concept succeeded brilliantly in the vision of director César Piña. A cast of experienced professional soloists joined the IPN student chorus and ballet in what can only be described as a remarkable achievement. In an evening that defied all expectations, this Aida proved that imagination, creativity and talent can succeed where big budgets and tradition sometimes fail.

The opera was presented on a unit set that worked surprisingly well for both the private moments and the grand public scenes. Mr. Piña moved his large forces expertly, staging a Triumphal Scene that lived up to its name. The only serious mis-step was the pantomimed prologue, with IPN students loading up a cartoonish school bus to go off to perform the opera. Clashing with the music of the prelude, the message seemed to be, “forgive us, we’re only students trying to put on an opera.” This evening definitely needed no apology.

The principal singers were, for the most part, singing their roles for the first time, bringing a welcome freshness to this well-known music. As Aida, Ms. Venegas sang with elegant lyricism and floating pianissimos. Essentially a lyric soprano, she had no trouble riding over the combined orchestra and chorus in the big moments. Mr. Chu was an ideal Radamés, tender, lyric, and ultimately triumphant in his big aria, “Celeste Aida.” He had the requisite power for the Triumphal Scene and the vocal stamina to finish the night with melting lyricism in the final duet. Ricardo López was a stentorian Amonasro, delivering his condemnation of Aida with force and fury.

Also in the cast were mezzo-soprano Belem Rodríguez as Amneris, the King’s jealous daughter. She is a true Verdian, with the voice, power and charisma to sing this role on any stage. Two members of Opera San Miguel’s Advisory Board were also in the cast. Bass Rosendo Flores gave an expert Ramfis, strongly sung, confident and fierce. And as the King/Moctezuma, bass Charles Oppenheim was secure and dignified, singing with grace while contending with an enormous feathered head-dress. (The costumes all evening were imaginatively designed and skillfully executed, often evoking classic film representations of ancient Mexico.) The IPN chorus performed very well in this difficult assignment, and the dancers of the Folkloric and Contemporary dance companies of IPN added color and swirling action, making important contributions in the extensive ballet scenes.

The evening’s conductor was Ivan López. At 23, this rising star has an important career ahead of him. He led the Orquesta Sinfónica del IPN with confidence and authority, effortlessly synchronizing the assembled forces and building up the big climaxes with power, control and excitement. His orchestra responded very well indeed, but one could only imagine what this conductor will one day do with an orchestra experienced in this style and repertoire.

The biggest winner, though, was Concurso San Miguel, which is cementing its reputation throughout the country for discovering and promoting the careers of the most talented young singers in Mexico today. Solely supported through the generosity of individuals and businesses in our city, the Angels of the Opera are among the brightest lights of this, The Best City in the World!

For information on how to support of the important work of Opera San Miguel and its Concurso, please email


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