Latinx Voices: David Radamés Toro
In celebration of Latinx Heritage Month we want to highlight the incredible artistry of the Latinx singers, conductors, and directors in our community. This year, we’re focusing on the artists featured in our 2021–2022 Season kickoff, Ópera Afuera! All month, we’ll be hilighting the Latinx artists who are working both on and off stage to present this one-of-a-kind concert filled with music from and inspired by Latin American culture.
David Radamés Toro is an acclaimed stage director, physical stage clinician and acting coach of Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage. As a Resident Artist Assistant Director at Minnesota Opera, Mr. Toro was an integral part of the staging of several world premieres such as 2017’s Dinner at Eight and 2016’s blockbuster adaptation of The Shining. In 2020, Mr. Toro returned to Minnesota to helm our production of Jonathan Dove’s modern fairy tale, Flight. Most recently, he served as stage director for our sold-out Opera in the Outfield event and produced a virtual 4-part production of The Magic Flute with Opera Neo.
In what ways has your Latinx identity impacted your career in opera?
This is an interesting question and as I started to think of it, I could not help but think about how in my undergraduate studies and graduate school, I had no Latinx mentors. In undergrad, the voice department had maybe three other Latinx voice majors. When I tried to explore Latin American songs, my teachers could only suggest Spanish (European) artsong. In graduate school, I asked my vocal pedagogy teacher if she would be interested in being a faculty sponsor for a “Latinos in Music” student group and her response was, “I don’t see what good that would do.” Zarzuelas were not even mentioned in my opera history/repertoire classes until I went to school in Texas.
A director pours a part of himself into all his works. My Latinidad is inseparable from how I conceive, comprehend, and implement art. My parents told me early on that as Latinos we always must work harder to be noticed or we will be overlooked – it is an unfortunate lesson that all Persons of Color learn early on. When I went to school, I saw the lack of diversity and inclusion in higher education and it drove me to learn more about my own heritage and bring it to the opera world. my career is impacted my experiences as a gay third generation Mexi-Rican (Mexican and Puerto Rican), raised by the telenovela watching matriarchs of my family, and brought up in the religious culture of Latino Catholicism (its own mix of Roman Catholicism and Pre-Columbian spiritual practices). My identity, my brownness, drives me to prove Latinx cultures’ place in the opera world.
Did you have any Latinx role models or mentors when you were starting your career? What qualities did you admire about them?
I did not see Latino representation in my education and my teachers never pointed me towards Latinos (not Spaniards) or Latino-Americans as inspiration. I think the first Latino director I was heavily influenced by was Guillermo del Toro. Even though he is a movie director, his aesthetic and imagination have influenced my work and storytelling. There is so much I admire about him – his own sense of magical realism, influenced by his love of classic horror movies, Lovecraft, and folklore. I even find myself sharing his lighting aesthetic.
Someday I hope to mentor young Latinx opera directors, since I did not have this resource, by encouraging them to keep exploring their directorial voices, offering validation, and hopefully guide them in developing their own unique style of storytelling.
What changes would you like to see in the opera industry, specifically in relation to the Latinx community?
I would like to see more commissions for new works specific to the Latinx America experience. Works like the Folgia/Martinez Mariachi trilogy, which use a specifically Mexican musical tradition to tell stories about fully realized characters. I want to see other Latinx musical traditions featured in the same way. I remember being so proud and moved to see Latinx representation on stage from a wide spectrum of Latinidad when I was assisting El Pasado Nunca Se Termina at Fort Worth Opera and thinking how I would love to see my Puerto Rican side treated with such nuance. I want to see Latinx American stories whose plots focus on more than immigration. Otherwise, Latinx identity will continue to be depicted as a foreign rather than the innate, American culture it is.