Latin Post, 2015

Photo credit: Kristin Hoebermann

Photo credit: Kristin Hoebermann


Rolando Sanz has dedicated his life to the world of opera, but for him, it is not just about singing and performing on stage; it is also about giving back to his community and educating the future generations.

And that is one of the reasons that the Cuban American, together with his brother Kristofer, formed the Young Artists of America. The project came about as he and his brother, a conductor, sought out a way to pool their individual talents together in same way.

"We put our heads together and thought that the best way to pool our talents was to do a one-off concert and expose youth to the music they have not exposure to," said Sanz during a recent interview with Latin Post.

That first concert included a student orchestra of 54 and a chorus of 20. Sanz invited some professional singers to work with the group and they showcased a program consisting of works from such composers as Sondheim and Verdi. Sanz noted that, much to their surprise, the event sold out with 400 people in attendance.

What Sanz did not anticipate, however, was what would follow.

"Then the phone calls came in asking when the next one would be," he stated before pointing out that what really interested people was "the high caliber [of the performances]. Because of the way we worked with the students and the talent we brought, the caliber is high.

"The best compliment that we got from audience members, not even parents, was that they forgot that they were listening to high school students."

On March 8, the company will debut its latest program which consists of excerpts from Gounod's "Romeo et Juliette" and Bernstein's "West Side Story." Both works are adapted from Shakespeare's renowned play and the performance will showcase the full drama from start to end. But instead of showcasing just one musical version of the work, the company will combine numbers from both works to tell the story.

This follows a similar adaptation done by the company with "Madama Butterfly" and "Miss Saigon" in a previous season.

"It's palatable for the audiences and students," Sanz noted as the reason behind this musical theater-opera combo. "Opera is amazing art form, but I think that musical theater is a gateway drug to opera for so many young people. This is kind of a sneaky way to feed them their Brussel sprouts and exposing them to this repertoire."

This production will be performed at the Strathmore, a 2,000 seat house, and will feature 50 singers and an orchestra of 92 as part of the organization's third full season.

Sanz knew since the age of nine that he wanted to embark on a musical journey for the rest of his life. The son of Cuban immigrants and the oldest of three siblings, Sanz stated that he was singing from an early age.

His father, however, had no idea what to do with his son and sought out an outlet to help him develop his musical talents. He found one in an ad from the Washington National Opera seeking out a children's chorus.

There was initial hesitance from the youngster upon being told that he would be singing in an opera, however.

"I remember myself wondering why I would ever want to do opera. 'Wasn't it just people screaming at each other?'" Sanz revealed.

But that initial resistance would not last long. During breaks from rehearsals, he would stand on stage left and watch the professionals work. "I would stand there every rehearsal and listen to that orchestra sweep through the Kennedy Center Opera House. I remember that at that moment thinking, 'If my voice does go this route, I must do this for the rest of my life.'"

And so he went about it through professional studies at the Catholic University before finishing his Masters degree at the Yale School of Music. But unlike other artists, who grow into their respective voices quickly and thus flourish within the first years of their career, Sanz admitted to facing a different challenge. His voice was initially a baritonal one and it took him time to transition into the upper range of his voice as a tenor.

"I had friends who won the Met competition at 22 and bloomed early. I always knew that my pace was going to be on the slower side and that I would have to let my voice grow slowly into the rep," Sanz admitted.

But there is no doubt that his voice has blossomed. The tenor has made a career for himself appearing around the United States with such companies as Palm Beach Opera, Opera Idaho, Baltimore Concert Opera, Washington Concert Opera and Annapolis Opera, among others. He has performed at such venues as Washington National Cathedral, Aspen Music Festival, and Carnegie Hall. He will return to Carnegie Hall in a future season to perform the world premiere of a song cycle by composer Ezra Laderman and former United States poet-laureate Robert Pinsky.

Additionally, he has been a prizewinner at such competitions as the Florida Grand Opera/Young Patronesses of the Opera Voice Competition, the Aspen Music Festival Vocal Concerto Competition and the XIII International Voice Competition in Trujillo, Peru among others. He also won the Orange County District of the Met National Council Auditions.

And in the coming months, he is slated to perform at the Virginia Opera and the Florentine Opera. In fact, he is already in rehearsals for the Virginia Opera's upcoming production of Verdi's "La Traviata," directed by Lillian Groag.

Sanz plays the lovesick Alfredo in "Traviata," a role that he has sung numerous times and has a strong connection with.

"He is a young guy, a poet at heart," he stated about the character. "There is something to be said for that universal theme of the underdog falling for the beautiful girl.

"After having sung it many times, the music has become a part of me. "

He noted that working with Groag has been terrific in helping him deepen his understanding of Alfredo.

"She knows this piece inside out. She is all over the text and score and is a true visionary in bringing new angles to the characters and story," he stated about Groag's approach. "She is about looking for subtext and finding new ways to deliver the lines and communicate with one another."

After Alfredo, Sanz heads over to the Florentine Opera in Wisconsin to take on the role of Nemorino in "L'Elisir D'Amore." This is yet another role that suits Sanz's voice and that he enjoys singing.

"It is so beautifully written and it suits my voice so well. It encourages that lighter singing that the Belcanto repertoire demands," he noted. "[My favorite moment is] the 'Adina credimi.' [Nemorino] really pours his heart out. There has been so much comedy, but this is a moment where everything comes to the standstill."

So where would Sanz like his voice to head in the future? While he noted a newfound appreciation for singing Janacek's Kát'a Kabanová last season, he noted that "My soul and my voice belong to Verdi."

But the Verdi he "geeks" out over is not the cannon repertoire ("Aida," "Rigoletto," or "Don Carlo" to name a few), but rather the early and middle Verdi.

"It's kind of what turns me on and I hope that one day I can dig into that."

Among his favorites of that early period are "Ernani" and "Luisa Miller."

"Ernani for me, as much as the plot is questionable, that opening aria makes my blood race," he revealed. "And Luisa Miller is right up there. As a matter of fact, my daughter's name is Luisa and it is not a coincidence."

When the singer is not on the road, he admits to enjoying his time in the kitchen.

"I'm always in the kitchen, experimenting with recipes and playing house trying to imagine my life if a I were a chef," he enthused. "That was always my other dream to come up with recipes."And while he grew up eating a lot of Cuban recipes, he admits that he likes to depart from those roots.

"I am really into Latin Asian fusion food," said Sanz. "I always like to try out soy sauce with Latin food."

He is also a huge Baltimore Orioles fan and has had the pleasure of singing the National Anthem for the team's opening series ceremonies since 2012. And most recently, he got a chance to sing the anthem at the team's playoff opener this past October.

"I think they enjoy having a classical voice for their opening day to kick things off with a bang."

There can be no doubt that Sanz's voice has already made its presence felt far beyond the reaches of Camden Yards and around the United States.

– David Salazar