Born in the city of Piedras Negras in the Mexican state of Coahuila, tenor Eleazar Rodríguez is an exciting young talent. A member of the ensemble at the Badisches Staatstheater, Karlsruhe since the 2011-12 season, he is a recipient of the Plácido Domingo Scholarship awarded by the Sociedad Internacional de Valores de Arte Mexicano, a renowned Young Artist program in Mexico City. Following the completion of his studies at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music he moved to Europe and joined the ensemble of the Theater Heidelberg in 2010. His roles include Tonio, Tamino, David, Alfred and Iopas. In all of these he demonstrates his silvery tone, impeccable phrasing and beautiful line. I caught up with Mr Rodríguez between performances of a double-bill of Le Rossignol and L’Enfant et les sortilèges.
You have been working in Germany since 2011 and in this time you have sung a number of roles. What would you say are the advantages and challenges of working in the German repertoire system?
First of all, thank you for this interview, I appreciate it very much! Now regarding your question, I believe one of the biggest challenges I’ve encountered in this German repertoire system is how to ‘pace yourself’. It’s known amongst singers that this German repertoire system keeps you on your toes all of the time. You become part of an Ensemble which means you’re part of a big team. New productions are announced and you have to prepare your assigned roles while you are rehearsing for other opera productions and recitals. It varies depending on how many new productions you have per season. The advantage of this system is that you get to build your repertoire. For example, when I was in America, I had the opportunity of singing Tamino, once in San Francisco at the SFCM – in English – and then when I was a member of the International Vocal Arts Institute program I did it as well. So before I moved to Heidelberg I did it 3 times, as in I sang Tamino only 3 times. Here in Germany I’ve been able to do around 12 shows in Heidelberg with their production and in the Staatstheater Karlsruhe around 20 times with their production. So I can say I have Tamino pretty secure which allows me to be able to jump in any production and tackle it like a pro.
A significant number of singers working in the German repertoire system have been trained in North America. Would you say that there are any differences in the training received in North America and elsewhere?
I can only speak for myself, since my training has been almost exclusively in North America. Before my SFCM years, I was studying in Mexico, not only in the SIVAM program you mentioned, but also in other programs, such as the Encuentro Operístico de Verano de Artescénica AC and the International Vocal Arts Institute. In this last one I worked with Joan Dornemann, Sherrill Milnes, Justino Díaz, Carrie-Ann Matheson and Paul Nadler amongst others. In the summers of 2009 and 2010 I was chosen to be part of the renowned Merola Opera Program of the San Francisco Opera, where I had the opportunity to work with some of the best master teachers in the world.
The preparation I’ve received in all of these programs was excellent. These young artist programs gave me the tools that I would eventually use in a professional singing career. What I can tell you is that in the USA, the coaches not only straighten out any wrong notes you may have, but they also work on the style, languages and interpretation of whatever piece you are working on.
Two of the roles that I have particularly enjoyed you in are Iopas in Les Troyens and Tonio in la Fille du régiment. Both are high-lying roles in French. We also all know how much of a challenge the French language is to sing in. How did you prepare for these roles?
The tessitura in these roles is indeed very high. But I am lucky to have the best voice teacher in the entire world. His name is César Ulloa and he gave me the strongest and most reliable vocal technique. The secret in these high tessitura roles is just to have a good placement and together with a steady support the voice can achieve the ease you need for these very passagio-y roles. I consider myself a very steady and technically reliable singer. I know where my voice is, I know what I am good at and I am careful with what I sing and how I sing it.
Regarding languages, since I was young I’ve been fairly good at languages. I grew up bilingually thanks to the school I studied in. This has allowed me to understand the rules of each language. I must confess that French is such a wonderful language, and I’ve felt at home with it. I know in my future the French lyric roles will come to me and I will embrace them and sing them for a long, long time.
As far as preparation goes, I also studied how to work the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) which allows me to recreate the perfect French sound for the operas, arias or chansons I work on.
Your repertoire contains roles in operas from Handel to Berlioz to Mozart to Rossini to Stravinsky, often scheduled within the same month. How do you reconcile this wide repertoire and linguistic range within a short space of time?
I guess I try keeping the files ‘fresh’. I have a fairly good memory, and I tend to pull out the operas once in a while to dust off some passages, especially the recitativo parts. Those are very wordy and difficult. Also, roles that are usually rhythmically difficult are easy to remember since I hammered them quite well when I was learning them. It varies with every singer I guess.
You have been involved very closely with a charity in your home city of Piedras Negras, ‘Piedras Negras por la Paz’. Tell us a little about your involvement with this organization and the activities that you undertake for them?
Yes! My hometown is a border town. A couple of years ago the violence levels were off the charts! Cartels vs the Army, and you can imagine, the city in the middle of it all. Being on the other side of the world I got very frustrated with this situation. I thought of an initiative that would change the situation little by little. I created the non-profit organization Piedras Negras por la Paz of which I am the founder and current president. This NPO is interested in promoting peace through education and the arts. We’ve organized a couple of concerts that act as fundraisers in order for us, as an NPO, to give the Pablo Valdés Hernández Art Scholarship. This enables us to financially support and help local young artists to keep working on their skills, especially the talented ones that have no means to pursue an artistic career in any branch of the arts. We gave the first scholarship to a very talented young violinist. It is through this that we hope to plant the seeds of hope, and that once our artists are well-established, they can give back and help other young talents. Art is vital for me. It has transformed me and I am confident that music and any art form gives you a rich sensibility that helps you become a better human being.
Tell us a little more about your aims and goals for the future?
I have very clear goals. Amongst those goals, one of them is to be honest to myself and to the music I am singing and performing. I will honour the talent that was given to me by taking good advantage of it. I want to travel more, sing and be happy.
What exciting roles do you have in your future projects?
Right now the role I’m excited to learn is Fenton. I like Falstaff, I’ve seen it a lot of times and I can’t wait to crack open the new score! Eventually I will be jumping into Duca, Edgardo, Faust, and Romeo, but for those I can wait.