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Thursday 19 July 2018
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Giving opera a human face

In just under two years, rising Chilean opera singer Diego Godoy-Gutierrez has adopted Trinidad and Tobago as his Caribbean home, having performed here twice to embracing audiences. “Energy and passion is everywhere,” he said of the country, and as a romantic operatic tenor he finds this stimulating.

Though relatively unknown outside of Chile, Godoy-Gutierrez is an exciting tenor with powerful vocals. He’s among a young generation of South American opera singers who are seeking to change perceptions of opera music and encourage ordinary people to “rediscover the music” since according to him, the music has always been about the common man.

At age 23, he has completed eight years of training in opera music and recently moved to France to being residency training at the famed opera company L’Op?ra national du Rhin.

Godoy-Gutierrez was part of the just concluded TT Opera Festival organised by the Classical Music Development Foundation of Trinidad and Tobago (CMDFTT), and he was impressed with the quality of work being done by the foundation, in addition to being moved by the appreciation shown by local audiences who filled Queen’s Hall during the production.

“Trinidad just staged an amazing production of Mozart’s romance Cos? fan tutte,” Godoy said during a recent interview at the Chilean Embassy, Alexandra Street, Woodbrook, Port-of-Spain. The support shown was tremendous and the audiences ranged from opera enthusiasts to the common man, he pointed out.

Godoy-Gutierrez loves the passion of the people in this country and he enjoys parang whenever he visits – it doesn’t matter the time of the year. Commenting on opera in Trinidad and Tobago, he said that the audiences here discredit the myth that opera is elitist.

In his view, opera music has to rebrand itself as the music of the common man – it is an opinion that he strongly believes in. The word “opera” meaning “a work” is essentially a story told to music.

“It’s the art of conveying a story through singing, acting and dancing, sometimes with dialogue,” he said, explaining the opera. Godoy-Gutierrez said many people are turned off by operas because they believe them all to be elitist and long, and catering to a certain audience. But he argued that it is about the human condition at its core. “Yes it’s sung in foreign languages with loud voices, but at its core it’s about storytelling and its stories we can all relate to…stories about love, life and death,” he said. In short, opera is about the human condition.

Growing up in Chile, he was exposed to singing at an early age and when he was first introduced to opera music he was drawn to the stories. “Stories are universal and you don’t need to speak a certain language to understand the story that is being told, especially when it is being acted out on the stage,” he observed.

The passion of opera music also drew him to the art form according to him; supporters of opera music are passionate people. He explained that an opera production includes a solo, ensemble, and choral singers on stage and a group of instrumentalists playing offstage, and sometimes dancers are included.

Godoy-Gutierrez is a romantic opera singer, but he also performs comedic operas and other serious work. During his studies his interest deepened when he was introduced to the Romantic period (approximately 1827-1900), and he felt closest to the work of Giuseppe Verdi – the most famous of all the Italian opera composers during the Romantic period.

Verdi viewed opera as human drama to be conveyed through the use of simple, direct, vocal solo melody. This, according to Godoy-Gutierrez, is what the music is about.

To explain this further, he spoke of his recent experience at Queen’s Hall.

“Opera is all about the feelings and during the performance I was deep in my feelings and I could feel the audience too, the people who were openly emotional. We rehearse for hours just for one moment of magic and that was it, the magic happens when you connect with the audience for a brief but highly intense moment.” For people new to the art form, he suggested that they listen to Vincenzo Bellini’s music. “This would be a great introduction; he has some of the most beautiful music!” One of his personal favourites is Bellini’s “Casta Diva.”

Godoy-Gutierrez is young with a promising career ahead of him and he aspires to be as successful as operatic tenors such as Placido Domingo and Luciano Parvarotti. He is excited to begin his international career with the residency in France. “This is a wonderful opportunity for me,” he said, adding that the company in France believes in his ability and has opened a door for him to grow in the art form.

With his brooding good looks, charismatic stage presence and powerful voice, Godoy-Gutierrez seems poised for success in the art form. When this was put to him, he laughed and said, “I intend to do well.”

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