Sound Bites spotlights up-and-coming singers and conductors in the world of opera.

Sound Bites: David Portillo

by F. PAUL DRISCOLL

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Photographed in Chicago by Brian Kuhlmann
Clothes styling and grooming by Nicole Cap / tails courtesy Lyric Opera of Chicago
© Brian Kuhlmann 2013
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Rising tenor David Portillo
© Brian Kuhlmann 2013

David Portillo, who takes on Tonio in Fort Worth Opera Festival's Daughter of the Regiment this month, has some words of wisdom about that character's nine high Cs in Act I: "Singing the whole show is easier than singing just the aria by itself. In an audition situation, I have seven other bel canto arias that I would much rather sing than 'Ah, mes amis.' If you are singing the whole show, those high Cs are still scary, but they don't seem as scary, because they mean more emotionally in the context of the show. Now, some of those Cs come so fast that you can't really mess with them — you've got to know where they are and nail them consistently. The really hard one is the last one, because you've got to hold it. Once you are up there, you can't really do anything with that last C except grow it — or come off it quickly and try to look as if it sounded beautiful."

A native of San Antonio, Portillo completed his master's degree at the University of North Texas and did two summers in the Merola program before being accepted to Lyric Opera of Chicago's Ryan Center. "The shock of gravity being in a company of that size was huge. I don't know if I was really ready for it, which may have been a good thing. There was a whole lot on my plate that first season — it was intense. I was the Alfredo cover in La Traviata that first year, and the other covers were Susanna Phillips for Violetta and Quinn Kelsey for Germont — really amazing, fabulous voices, and all I could think was 'What am I doing here?' The cover run was terrifying. It happened, and I survived. After that, everything felt a little bit easier."

A sharp performer, Portillo has been consistently praised for his elegant musicianship and technical savvy, and for his warm, sexy lyric tenor, ideally suited to Mozart and bel canto roles. He made a high-profile New York debut in 2012, with his stylish Renaud in the Met+Juilliard production of Gluck's Armide. Portillo's calendar this season has included the world premiere of Fénelon's JJR (Citoyen de Genève) with Grand Théâtre de Genève, his first Percy in Anna Bolena at Minnesota Opera and a return to Lyric Opera for his first David in Die Meistersinger. Next up are a June–July run as Rossini's Almaviva at Central City Opera and Gonzalve in L'Heure Espagnole at Japan's Saito Kinen Festival in August. 

Now in his early thirties, the tenor calls his career "still an adventure. I'm still trying to push myself — to push the limit of what I can do, and to make some new choices while I am making music." spacer 

F. PAUL DRISCOLL

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Current Issue: September 2014 — VOL. 79, NO. 3