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Soprano Judith Rodriguez to Play the Role of Luisa in World Premiere, 'Zorro' - Q&A Interview

Soprano Judith Rodriguez will play the role of Luisa in Hector Armienta's World Premiere of Zorro April 26, 28, and 30 at the Historic Ridglea Theater.

Judith Rodriguez
Photo by Lourdes Balduque
Q: What are you looking forward to most as you put your signature stamp on a role that no one has ever witnessed on the stage before this spring?

A: I look forward to seeing where this dreamy, whimsical character takes me. Like most young girls, we are curious about life outside our everyday routine. We dream about romance, success, and adventure. I’m excited to see where the stage director will take me.

Q: You have studied with some of the most recognizable names in in the opera world, including the late great prima donnas Mirella Freni and Montserrat Caballé. What was it like working with these extraordinary artists and what pearls of wisdom they left with you?
Photo by Monika Kelley
Photo by Monika Kelley

A: They were both very different but shared in their generosity. In 2005, I really had no idea what to expect by going to Modena, Italy. Mirella Freni was giving her masterclasses, and I just wanted her to hear me and possibly give me advice. I got there with 300 euros in my pocket and did the first round of auditions to enter her class. Out of about 30 singers, her secretary told me that she had chosen me to participate. Her week-long class was actually 1000 euros. I told him, "But I only have 300 euros with me." He said, "Let me see what we can do." After about 5 minutes, he came back and said, "Mrs. Freni would like to offer you 70% of the Nicolai Ghiaurov Scholarship because she really wants to work with you." Her classes were not easy, but she brought out the best in me. We worked on arias from Suor Angelica, Madame Butterfly, and La Rondine that year.

Three years later, in 2008, I was given a full scholarship to study with Montserrat Caballé. At the time, she was having difficulty walking so she would come in and sit behind a desk a few feet away from the piano. Student after student sang, and finally, my turn came to sing for her. I decided to sing “Ch’il bel sogno di Doretta” because that’s the aria that first captivated me when I first heard one of her recordings. So, I sang the best I could, and when I was done, people in the audience clapped. Then silence. I immediately worried that I had messed up somewhere and that she was going to yell at me. Finally, she got up from her chair and asked, “Why have you come to my master class?” I nervously smiled unsure of what to say.

Judith with the legendary Mirella Freni
Judith with the legendary Mirella Freni

My heart started pounding even more. She repeated her question, “Why have you come to my master class if you sing it like that and I can not correct you? You have sung it the way I would have: good breath control, beautiful voice, and beautiful line of phrasing. There’s nothing I can really say except, can you sing Butterfly for me?” At that moment, tears just ran down my cheeks in disbelief! I covered my face and started crying. That’s when she slowly started walking towards me. She took both of my hands and gave me the traditional kiss on both cheeks to encourage me to sing, “Un bel di.” They both encouraged me by assuring me that I’m on the right path and ready for the stage.

Q: As a Spanish music specialist, you are a huge champion of Zarzuelas. What is it about this centuries-old lyric-dramatic genre that excites you most as a performer?

A: I’ve been working on a recording project which focuses on one of the founding fathers of Zarzuela, and this project has been so rewarding because I’ve read over 10 libretti and discovered unrecorded music. I’ve performed a few of these arias for audiences in Texas and the feedback is always positive. It’s exciting to see audiences embrace this unknown music just as much as I have. What I love about Zarzuela is the union between Theater and lyric singing. It’s also light-hearted because there is never a tragic ending in Spanish Zarzuela. As a performer, I hope that more companies worldwide take a chance on Zarzuela because Spanish deserves to be right up there with Italian, French, German, and English. I'm very grateful to Fort Worth Opera for taking a chance on Spanish Opera during the past few years and commissioning new work like Zorro.

Photo by Monika Kelley
Photo by Monika Kelley

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