Fairfax Times, 2015

Photo credit: Lucid Frame Productions

Photo credit: Lucid Frame Productions


It’s the ultimate art form — opera.

At least that’s the opinion of Rolando Sanz, the nationally acclaimed, locally born opera singer who will debut with the Virginia Opera as the lead male role in the opening of Giuseppi Verdi’s “La Traviata.”

“La Traviata,” which is considered to be one of the most frequently performed operas in the world, is based on the play taken from the Alexandre Dumas novel “La dame aux Camélias (The Lady of the Camellias).” It has been performed for more than 160 years.

Sanz, a Rockville, Md., native, will play the tenor role of bourgeois Alfredo Germont, and to hear him speak of it in the buildup to the show is akin to hearing a man profess a love that’s still fresh.

“It’s the water I drink and the air I breathe,” Sanz said of opera as a form of art. “It’s a joy to be able to make music for a living, and once in a while we forget that it’s work.”

Perhaps that’s why he’s been able to dedicate the majority of his life to music. He didn’t come from a family of musicians, he said, but he knew at a young age that he was one.

For example, before a “precocious” Sanz was 10 years old, his father took him to an audition for the Washington Opera children’s chorus. He had read an advertisement in the newspaper and figured it could at least serve as an outlet for his son.

The young Sanz made the cut and did more than find a place to spend his excess energy. He took his first steps into the world that would come to define his life’s passion.

He remembered thinking to himself: “If my voice happens to go this way, I have to do this for the rest of my life.”

His voice happened to go that way.

Practice for this production of “La Traviata” began early last month, when the cast, director and conductor came together for an initial run-through of the opera. From there, Sanz said they dove right into the “nuts and bolts of staging process,” during which the artists hash out character emotions and motivations.

“This kind of music … has a breathing life, and we create it new each time that we perform it,” he said. “It’s really [about] learning the style of the music. Each composer has their own style that the music is supposed to be performed as. A Mozart opera is not sung or performed or paced the same as a Verdi opera.”

Sanz should know. He first played the role of Alfredo as a student in the [Aspen Music Festival], under the lead of the late American conductor Julius Rudel, who led a storied and decorated career that included a Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording in 1979. And having played Alfredo numerous times since, Sanz explained that he felt very comfortable.

“The first time I did it, it was learning the role for the first time and doing basic stuff like notes and language,” he said. “But now as I come to revisit the role in preparation to debut with Virginia Opera, it’s more revisiting what’s in the hard drive.”

This past weekend, the cast and orchestra came together for the first time for a sitzprobe (German for “sitting rehearsal”). Up until then, Sanz and his co-performers had only practiced with piano. They have several more rehearsals this week, and then the shows begin: March 13, 15 and 17 at the Harrison Opera House; March 21 and 22 at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts Concert Hall; March 27 and 29 at Carpenter Theatre in Richmond; and April 11 and 12 at Virginia Beach’s Sandler Center.

For Sanz, the locations come in welcomed close proximity to his family. Though he’s lived in various parts of the U.S., he said he feels most at home in the mid-Atlantic region. He and his wife have settled down in the Washington area and are starting a family there.

“With this transient life that we lead as opera singers — always on the road and living out of hotel rooms and strange apartments — I am extremely proud … to bring this production home to the D.C. area,” Sanz said. “It’s a small luxury in this life to wake up in your own bed.”

– Joseph Antoshak