Latinx Voices: Vanessa Becerra

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

Peruvian & Mexican American Soprano Vanessa Becerra has been praised for her “bold and bright” singing (Opera News) and lauded for her “charismatic and eloquent” presence (San Francisco Chronicle).

Vanessa’s 21/22 season begins with a role/house debut at Intermountain Opera Bozeman for Il barbiere di Siviglia (Rosina), a return to Washington National Opera for Sankaram’s Rise (Alicia Hernández), part of the world premiere tetralogy Written in Stone, and debuts with Austin Opera for Fidelio (Marzelline) and Opera Parallèle for La Belle et la Bête (Belle). In Concert, she will debut with Minnesota Opera for Ópera Afuera and return to Fort Worth Opera for Entre Amigos.

Ms. Becerra is a graduate of the Young Artist Program at the Los Angeles Opera. During her time with LAO, she appeared in Le nozze di Figaro (Barbarina), Die Zauberflöte (Papagena), La traviata (Annina), Gossip 2 in the GRAMMY Award-winning recording of Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles, and as a featured soloist in a concert with bass-baritone Erwin Schrott. Vanessa enjoys a long relationship with The Glimmerglass Festival where she has been seen in Oklahoma! (Laurey), La bohème (Musetta), and in their Young Artist performances of The Magic Flute (Pamina). Other training programs include Wolf Trap Opera Company, Des Moines Metro Opera, and Seagle Music Colony.

Vanessa’s professional debut came in 2014 at Fort Worth Opera in the world premiere of Crozier’s With Blood, With Ink (Young Juana). She received her master’s degree from The Boston Conservatory and was invited to return and perform as a featured alumna on their 150th Anniversary Gala at Symphony Hall.

Ms. Becerra received her bachelor’s degree from Texas Christian University in her hometown of Fort Worth, TX and is a graduate of the Fort Worth Academy of Fine Arts.

Vanessa Becerra

Vanessa Becerra at Ópera Afuera

In what ways has your Latinx identity impacted your career in opera?

This is a difficult question to answer, layered for sure. I am the daughter of my Peruvian immigrant mother and second-generation Mexican-American father and the most significant chapter of my life took place at a fine arts academy where I was exposed to musicals, theater, dance, and opera. There weren’t many Latine kids at this school and the majority of my closest friends were white and financially comfortable. There is nothing wrong with this of course but, it’s almost like I absorbed a whole other culture, had access to a whole other kind of life. Sometimes I feel a great sense of imposter syndrome because of it. I have been told I talk too “white” around some of my family, and I have also prioritized speaking very clearly at donor functions. Not because I have a thick accent, but because I didn’t want any mistake to be made about my worthiness of being in that room, or worse (for me as a 20-something-year-old), I worried I might be mistaken as a member of wait staff. Thankfully with time and maturity, I don’t feel these insecurities anymore and am glad to be wiser. I am not interested in pretending that I wasn’t raised by a working class family and I am so proud and grateful to acknowledge my roots as the daughter of a foreigner who sacrificed and suffered and worked so hard on my behalf. As an active and professional Latina in the opera industry I am proud to represent my family and anyone who grew up in a similar situation as I did. “Representation matters” – it’s true!

Did you have any Latinx role models or mentors when you were starting your career? What qualities did you admire about them?

Like a true Tejana one of my first idols was Selena! Her spirit, her talent, her beauty – she was like a real life Barbie doll when I was a kid, but of course Barbie’s were normally blonde so I loved that I saw a little of myself in her with the long brown hair. She was charming and embraced the fact that her Spanish was a little broken. Just because you don’t speak the language perfectly doesn’t make you less Latina. That resounds with me even more as I’ve gone through ups and downs of retaining the language. She expressed herself authentically and genuinely and ultimately was accepted and respected by both Latines and Americans. She made an enormous impact in her brief and beautiful life. I am so thankful to her!

What changes would you like to see in the opera industry, specifically in relation to the Latinx community?

My first thought is Latine singers just want to be considered for standard roles as quickly and commonly as non-BIPOC people. We aren’t “specialty” singers, we are classically trained artists fully capable of singing Mozart, Rossini, and Verdi. We are happy to sing in Spanish and play roles that fit our heritage, but we also want to be seen and known as interpreters of more traditional characters.
On a grander scale I believe there is a huge need for more literature by Latine composers. Opera companies take giant risks when they produce new opera and it is already hard enough for many companies to stay afloat when they program the classics so, I understand. Unfortunately I don’t have a perfect solution but I do know that with our growing population of Latines in this country, the more they are seen and heard on stage the more likely they will support this art form. The more accessible classical music is to young Latine students, the better. Personally, I have lent my voice to three different up and coming Latino composers because I know it takes experimentation to learn how to write for our instruments and there is not enough incentive to practice writing opera when the chance of getting produced is so small. It’s a very tricky situation in all directions but we have to start somewhere.


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