Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Operísima México launches in San Miguel de Allende

I recently had the very enjoyable opportunity to meet Maestro Rogelio Riojas-Nolasco, director and founder of San Miguel de Allende’s inspiring new opera studio, Operísima México. We discussed the maestro’s illustrious career, the remarkable potential of his 22 current students, his vision for the organization, and the considerable challenges of establishing an opera studio.

“For over three decades,” Riojas-Nolasco explained, “I worked as a pianist, vocal coach, and assistant conductor in some of the most important opera houses around the world, mostly in Europe. In those elite venues, I played 30 to 35 operas a year, often with daily performances.”

A performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in León featured two soloists from Operísima México.

Riojas-Nolasco’s international experience in the preparation and perfection of artists in the operatic field is certainly extensive. He has performed in nearly 30 countries, including at such venues as the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Russia and the Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall in the United States, and collaborated with many of the greatest singers and conductors in the world, such as Plácido Domingo, Javier Camarena, Rolando Villazón, Roberto Alagna, José Carreras, Neil Schikof, Francisco Araiza, Ramón Vargas, Edita Gruberova, Elina Garança, Cecilia Bartoli, Mirella Freni, and Renata Scotto.

In 2014, Ramón Vargas, the famed Mexican tenor, was named director of the Opera de Bellas Artes in Mexico City. Vargas invited Riojas-Nolasco to come home to Mexico to develop the Fine Arts Opera Studio there.

“Of course I said yes,” explained Riojas-Nolasco. “For five years, I was the director and primary coach. It was a very successful program: my students won 14 international prizes.”

In 2022, Riojas-Nolasco felt inspired to move to San Miguel de Allende to launch his own studio. “Some of my students came with me,” he noted. “Olymar Salinas, for example, an incredible young tenor, has been studying with me for almost seven years now, since he was 18 years old, and he’s doing very well.”

Operísima México performed at Casa Europa in San Miguel de Allende.

Salinas himself explained: “Many young singers are looking for a place like Operísima México to train in voice, movement, languages, and more, to build our repertoires and gain experience. In my case, performing in Europe and the United States has been invaluable.”

The Covid-19 pandemic interrupted the careers of many young singers. “In the moment when they should have started to do something important, their careers were blocked by the pandemic,” said Riojas-Nolasco. “I want to help these talented young people succeed now, to make up for lost time.”

When Riojas-Nolasco arrived in San Miguel de Allende, “The first institution to throw open their doors to us was Casa Europa. We performed five complete operas there, and I used a rotating cast to give all my students a chance to perform. They rotated between soloist and choir positions. It is important to me that young singers gain experience performing complete operas in order to be hired at leading opera houses. The directors need to see proof of the stamina and vocal maturity to finish a three-hour opera.”

Two of the maestro’s students, Salinas and Karla Pineda, went to the finals for the Vienna Opera last year, a huge honor for any young singer in the world. Salinas also made it to the semifinals for the Metropolitan Opera in New York, an impressive accomplishment.

An Operísima México performance at beautiful Villa Puccini MusikHaus in San Miguel de Allende.

“For me, as a Costa Rican singer, joining Operísima México has been an incredible experience,” Pineda explained. “I have learned so much from our amazing maestro and gained access to important competitions and auditions in Europe as well as here in the Americas. I am so thankful.”

The next phase for Operísima México is one of institutional development. The organization is in the process of obtaining official nonprofit status, at which point donations will become tax-deductible. Riojas-Nolasco credits Jack Kelly, executive director, for his exhaustive fundraising efforts. For example, Kelly organized a private event at beautiful Casa Proserpina in San Miguel de Allende to raise funds for Salinas and Pineda’s travel to Vienna and New York.

Riojas-Nolasco acknowledges that fundraising goals will remain significant for the foreseeable future. “As our studio grows, I hope to hire a variety of specialists. Right now, I am the director, pianist, acting coach, and language teacher. I speak German, French, Italian, Spanish, and English.”

“Eventually,” he continued, “we intend to have our own physical space, our own performing arts center. We have been welcomed at venues throughout San Miguel de Allende, such as Casa Europa, Villa Puccini MusikHaus, and now Foro Obraje, but it will be wonderful to have our own permanent venue, as well as dedicated housing and living stipends for the students — the kind of benefits my students in Mexico City received. We want them to be able to focus entirely on their music and not have to work other jobs to survive. Currently, kind donors are paying the rent for a house for five of the girls. We are so grateful for every bit of support we receive along the way.”

Operísima México is proud to offer residents of San Miguel the opportunity to enjoy opera throughout the year. Not only will the group perform a number of complete operas every year, but they also plan to offer an evening of opera highlights every other Thursday, beginning in July. Riojas-Nolasco hopes “Thursday night at the Opera” will become a regular part of many Sanmigelenses’ routines.

Further, he noted, “We are delighted by the growing opera community in San Miguel de Allende and proud to be part of it. For example, some of our students have participated, quite successfully, in competitions sponsored by Opera de San Miguel and the San Miguel MetOpera Trust.”

A performance of Parsifal in León featuring Operísima México singers.

Operísima México will next present “Opera Scenes, Program 2” featuring works by Verdi, Puccini, Bizet, Strauss, Gounod, Mozart, and Donizetti at Arthur Murray San Miguel on May 31 and June 1 at 7:00. Tickets are available online for MXN$500 and at the El Petit Four café. 

Currently, the best way to connect with Maestro Rogelio Riojas-Nolasco to support this exciting new opera studio in San Miguel de Allende is through the group’s Facebook page.

Based in San Miguel de Allende, Ann Marie Jackson is a writer and NGO leader who previously worked for the U.S. Department of State. Her award-winning novel “The Broken Hummingbird,” which is set in San Miguel de Allende, came out in October 2023. Ann Marie can be reached through her website, annmariejacksonauthor.com.

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