Meet the Artists: Jesús León & Stephen Martin

Double the Violettas means one thing: double the Alfredos! We’re so excited to have both Mexican tenor Jesús Léon (right) in his company debut and Minnesota Opera Resident Artist Stephen Martin (left) stepping into the role of Violetta’s lovestruck and tempestuous paramour. Recently, both singers sat down with us to discuss performing this demanding role and some of their most adventurous experiences on stage.

Describe Alfredo in three words…

Jesús Léon: Dreamer, passionate, obsessive.

Stephen Martin: Ardent, naive, hot-tempered.

What is your history with this role?

SM: This is my role debut! I covered Alfredo at Sarasota Opera, but this will be my first time performing it and I’m thrilled!

JL: It’s a role that I have sung in many countries and in many productions already. Alfredo has been part of my growth as an artist and vocally for about 20 years.

What are some of the joys and challenges of performing this role?

JL: Well, I can say that just singing the music of this opera is a joy, a great emotion, You must express feelings with your voice – love, hate, anger, frustration – and one of the challenges of singing it is keep up this concentration of energy and passion throughout the opera.

SM: I absolutely love the arc that traces Act 2 and Act 3. The petulant (and misguided) anger that Alfredo directs at Violetta in Act 2 makes the catharsis when they reunite all the sweeter in Act 3. I think Act 3 is Verdi at his best. It can be a challenge to channel all of the passion needed for the role while staying technically sound. It’s easy to let the emotion overcome you.

What is it about La Traviata that to you makes it such an enduring audience favorite?

SM: The music is iconic and Verdi doesn’t waste time dramatically. He gives you exactly what you need to connect with the characters and join them on their tragic journey without getting bogged down or slow. No fluff!

JL: It is a love story that never materializes and ends suddenly with the tragic death of the young Violetta. I think that the public loves that everything exists in this opera – love, jealousy, deceit, manipulation, frustration – and when listening to the music that Verdi composed he expresses all these feelings.

Have you spent any time in Minnesota? Is there anything you love to do when you’re here or anything you’re dying to try?

JL: I have spent only a few days so far here, but I hope to make a lot of friends. Everyone has told me to try fish and chips, so I think I want to spend the time eating well and, maybe if I have the opportunity, going to the lakes!

SM: I moved to Minneapolis in September to join the Resident Artist Program. When it’s not winter (which seems rare), I really enjoy biking the trails, paddle-boarding on the lakes, and going to the Minnehaha waterfall with my wife, Allison. I also get coffee way to often from Fairgrounds Coffee Co.

What is the strangest or most surprising thing that has ever happened to you during a performance?

SM: The first opera I was ever in was Gianni Schicchi. In that show, we had to move a mannequin (which was the dead body of Buoso) from the top of the bed to under the bed so Gianni Schicchi could take his place. As we were gently moving the mannequin of my deceased grandfather, it completely fell apart for all to see. The torso pulled in half, and I think an arm fell off too. Luckily, the opera is a comedy and it turned into the funniest moment of the show.

JL: I was singing at the Tosca premiere in the city of Belfast and while singing my first aria, “Recondita armonia,” right at the end of the aria, I see several policemen entering the auditorium, alerting the audience that there was a bomb in front of the theater. It was chaos; I remember we had to pause for 40 minutes for the officers to check all corners, but we had to continue the show despite feeling scared for our lives. The next day in the newspaper they wrote “Show must go on, despite a fresh alert…”

 

What do you think audiences would be most surprised to learn about the life of an opera singer?

JL: I think that having the privilege of doing what you like in these times is a luxury and being an opera singer and being able to live from that is a virtue that I find a dream come true. My singing has taken me to places I never imagined and I am totally grateful to life for having this opportunity. The life of singing opera is beautiful, but constant traveling can be very eroding and abrupt climate changes from one place to another can annihilate your voice. We must be attentive to all these elements of caring for our instrument and often we have to even sacrifice basic things like meetings with friends and family to offer the best for the role we are singing.

SM: It’s not as glamorous as you might think. It’s a lot of nights away from your loved ones and living in hotels or other people’s homes. That being said, I’ve met and worked with some of the most intelligent and incredible artists and have traveled to some spectacular places. It’s a good life.

ICYMI, check out our interview with our fabulous Violettas here, and then don’t miss Jesús and Stephen in La Traviata! Eight performances, May 4-19 at Ordway Center for the Performing Arts!

 
Photo © Brent Dundore at Spoon and Stable

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