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How San Miguel Became Important to Opera

Joe McClain

By Michael Sylvester

San Miguel de Allende has become a significant location in the Mexican opera scene for young opera singers aspiring to sing internationally. It hosts the Concurso de Opera San Miguel, currently the most important private opera competition for Mexican singers, founded in 2008. Also, in November 2018, the very first Met Opera District Auditions in Mexico will happen here.

Clearly, San Miguel itself has arrived on the opera stage, all thanks to the vision of Joseph McClain, the founder and Director Emeritus of the Austin Opera, who moved here in 2003. On a walk one day, McClain came upon a bullring he decided would make an excellent grand opera venue. He then founded Opera de San Miguel, which celebrated its opening weekend with a gala concert in the Plaza de Toros, attended by an estimated 4,500 people. Proceeds from that weekend, and from the newly founded Friends of the Opera, funded the creation of the Concurso de Opera San Miguel.

In 2014, after McClain had retired from Opera de San Miguel, he and I worked together to create the San Miguel Institute of Bel Canto, which opened in 2015. Its mission was to “craft a transformative experience,” in his words, for young opera singers. With high-level training from world-class instructors and performers, SMIBC students prepare to audition internationally. Many of its alumni have gone on to greater career achievements. Mexican opera coaches, conductors, and producers have commented on how well-prepared and sought-after our alums are.

But there was even more to achieve: In late 2016, I became frustrated with how Mexico’s singers, despite great talent, faced more obstacles than most in achieving international careers. They could not enter the Met Auditions, for example—where hopefuls can be heard by international opera producers—because Mexico had no District Met Auditions, which must be formed locally.

So after much thought—and under the leadership of Joan Mitchell and with the assistance of Michael Pearl and Pro Musica—the Mexico District Met Auditions were established. In November, Mexicans will participate in Met Auditions for the first time ever.

On Friday, July 6, at 7:30 pm, the SMIBC will present a concert of arias to benefit Casa Europa en Mexico, at Casa Europa. ($200 tickets available at Casa Europa and at the door; seating is limited.)

Then, at the Teatro Ángela Peralta on Thursday, July 12 at 7:30pm, come hear SMIBC’s Gala Grand Finale. (Tickets available only at the Peralta box office.)

We will also honor Joseph McClain with a Lifetime Achievement Award at a cabaret dinner on Saturday, July 14, with an evening of lighter music by the SMIBC singers. This is an invitation-only event with limited seating. Please email for an invitation.

Michael Sylvester, a tenor with a 30-year career singing in the world’s most prestigious opera houses, is the cofounder and general director of the San Miguel Institute of Bel Canto and an assistant professor at Wichita State University.


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