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

Sound Bites: Mario Chang

by F. PAUL DRISCOLL

Sound Bites Chang hdl 1214
Photographed by Dario Acosta in New York
Jacket: Desigual / Grooming by Affan Malik
© Dario Acosta 2014
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Tenor Mario Chang: ready for his close-up
© Dario Acosta 2014

Mario Chang  spent August 2014 in prize-winning form, scoring a triple victory in Plácido Domingo’s Operalia competition — the first prize, the zarzuela prize and the Rolex audience prize — and taking home $40,000 and a Rolex wristwatch. The audience at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, along with opera fans all over the world who watched Medici.tv’s live stream of the finals concert, was thrilled by the twenty-eight-year-old Guatemalan tenor’s robust, sexy sound in his knockout performances of “Ella mi fu rapita!” and “No puede ser.” 

Chang, who is midway through his first season under contract to Frankfurt Opera, had just finished his third year in the Met’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program when he won Operalia. In 2011, Chang’s victory in the Francisco Viñas Competition in Spain caught the attention of the Met, and he was invited to audition for the Lindemann program in New York. “I did the audition, and that night I was walking through Columbus Circle and got an e-mail saying, ‘You have been accepted, and you have one week to say if you want to be part of this or not.’ And I remember I just said, ‘Yes, yes, yes, YES’ a lot of times! This was beyond a dream!”

Chang made his Met debut in 2013, as the Fourth Esquire in the house premiere of François Girard’s production of Parsifal and sang the Italian Tenor in two performances of Der Rosenkavalier the following season. In early 2014, in a concert of comic operas presented by Met + Juilliard, a collaboration between the Lindemann program and the Juilliard School, Chang sang Nemorino in a staged excerpt from Act I of L’Elisir d’Amore. James Levine conducted. “I started to look at [Nemorino] four years ago and really studied it. But with Maestro Levine, it was like working on brand-new music — it is fantastic how precise he is, how deep he goes into the music. I knew the notes, and I knew the dynamics that were marked, but Maestro Levine gave me the intention for all that — for the character, for Donizetti — so that everything would stay with me in a complete way. It was profound.”

Chang’s un-Guatemalan-sounding surname is from his Chinese grandfather. “It can be confusing, because I don’t look Asian. Something really funny happened to me once when I went to sing in Ecuador. I went to the conductor to introduce myself at the start of the first day of rehearsals for a concert. And I said, ‘Hello, Maestro. Nice to meet you. I’m Mario Chang.’ And he said, ‘No, you’re not.’ And I said, ‘Yes, I am.’ And he said, ‘No, no, I’m waiting for some Chinese guy.’ And I had to say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, but that is me.’ Finally, I had to show him my passport to prove that I was Mario Chang!” spacer 

F. PAUL DRISCOLL

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Current Issue: December 2014 — VOL. 79, NO. 6