Opera San Miguel ends season on a high note

By Shari Alexander

March truly was ‘Opera San Miguel Month,’ highlighted by five stellar events: the company’s annual concert and dinner for its major donors, the Angels of the Opera; “Two Tenors Talk” with MET opera tenor Michael Sylvester; the sixth annual Concurso San Miguel, presented to a standing-room-only crowd at Teatro Ángela Peralta; followed by two sold-out performances of the company’s first-ever Opera Gala, at the Peralta on March 19, followed by a repeat performance at the Teatro José Nieto Piña in Celaya on March 20.

Ten days after the March 8 Concurso, Opera San Miguel closed out its season with two performances of its Opera Gala, presented with the 65-piece orchestra and 24-member chorus of the Conservatorio de Música de Celaya, conducted by Maestro Jesús Almanza. Eight former prize winners of Concurso San Miguel performed some of the most beloved operatic music ever written: the complete Act IV of Verdi’s Rigoletto (including “La donna è mobile” and the renowned quartet), the final scene of Bizet’s Carmen, and Act III, the famous Nile scene, of Verdi’s Aida. Opera San Miguel commissioned a two-meter removable extension to the front of the Peralta stage to accommodate the assembled forces and to allow for ample playing space for the singers, and a renovation of third floor dressing rooms for the orchestra and chorus (new restrooms, sinks, dressing tables with lighting, and seating).

The entire evening went off seamlessly, and was universally declared a triumph, one of the most memorable musical events presented in San Miguel de Allende in modern times. “I am a subscriber to the MET and go to Tanglewood every summer,” one audience member said, “but I never expected to hear a performance at this incredibly high level presented in San Miguel. I am astounded!”

Earlier in the month, ÓSM’s annual Angel Dinner was a gala event held at the appropriately named Hotel Imperio de Ángeles. The evening began with cocktails and passed hors d’oeuvres, followed by a concert by this year’s Concurso “Invitados Especiales,” four young singers who were invited to participate in coachings and to attend the Master Classes offered to the finalists of Concurso San Miguel. It was truly inspiring to hear these very young singers, so full of potential and enthusiasm, as they sang their hearts out for the generous donors who make Opera San Miguel’s programs possible. Following the concert, the Angels and special guests were treated to a delicious four-course dinner in the elegantly decorated dining room.

The next night, “Two Tenors Talk” was a lively conversation between Mr. Sylvester and John Bills, Artistic Director of Opera San Miguel, interspersed with videos of Sylvester’s extraordinary career as a leading tenor at most of the world’s greatest opera houses. Attendees at the Rosewood San Miguel Ballroom were treated to a surprise when Sylvester agreed to sing “live” for the packed audience. The experience of hearing a world-class operatic tenor in person is like none other, and the room exploded with cheers.

The final round of Concurso San Miguel 2014, the company’s annual search for the most talented young singers in Mexico, was held on Saturday, March 8, and for the first time in recent history the box office was forced to sell standing room tickets to accommodate the huge demand. Widely thought to be the most closely contested final round in the Concurso’s history, 200,000 pesos in career grants were awarded to the 10 finalists. The evening began with a warm welcome from San Miguel mayor, Mauricio Trejo, who announced that with Mr. Bills’ encouragement he would be seeking a large grant for important renovations to the city’s historic jewel box opera house, Teatro Ángela Peralta. This news was met with delight by an audience already in a festive mood.

Opera San Miguel’s 2013-14 season had begun with a free public Christmas concert in the Jardin last December, featuring a quartet of singers discovered through its Concurso, and continued in January with a “fusion fundraiser,” The Sound of San Miguel, hosted by Judy and Jack Hadlock, and starring Latin jazz guitarist Gil Gutiérrez, pianist Gabriel Hernández, and percussionist Kimani Carrabaza, performing with ÓSM star soprano Adriana Valdés, an event that raised enough money to fully fund the Concurso’s First Prize.

Now, with the season at an end, it is up to John Bills and his team to raise the bar for opera in San Miguel de Allende yet again next season. “I admit it will be a challenge,” he said, “but I have one or two ideas for next year that may just surprise our audience and bring new opportunities for the amazing young opera singers of Mexico.”


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