Singing for health’s sake

Israeli Opera’s latest production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville is directed by Miriam Klements, who has injected the classic opera with youth and jest.

If you’re going to make a living out of treading the boards and singing works by the likes of Mozart, Rossini and Verdi, it can help to have a suitable surname. “Actually my family name has got nothing to do with opera at all,” explains tenor Juan Jose Lopera, who performs the role of Almaviva in the Israeli Opera’s new production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, which starts a 13-date run tonight. “It’s the name of a small place in the south of Spain. A long time ago there was a count who lived there and it seems the name comes from a combination of the word in Spanish for wolf – lobo – and the word for pear – pera – because there was a pear orchard there.”
Besides his intriguing family name 45 year old Lopera has quite a life story to tell. He was born in Medellin, Colombia and initially set out to become a doctor. After completing his medical studies he spent a year doing medical research in an area of Colombia populated by Indians. “I became interested in shamanism and in the use of music as a healing tool,” he recalls. “I became curious about controlling the voice and using in healing. That’s how I became interested in music.”
The die was cast. Lopera began practicing medicine and even taught at his alma mater but also began seriously considering a life in music. “I studied singing privately,” he says. “I began to study classical singing, although to become an opera singer was never my goal.” But events soon overtook Dr. Lopera. “My voice developed quickly in Colombia and, one day the head of the opera and conducting section of the Richard Strauss Conservatory in Munich came to visit, to do workshops. He worked with me and then he invited me to do an opera in Munich.”
The trip to Germany was the turning point in Lopera’s professional life. Impressed with his incipient vocal prowess the conservatory people suggested he stay on in Munich for a 2-year studio program.
The berth in Munich was followed by a bronze medal in the 1994 ARD international singing competition in that city, followed by taking first place in the prestigious Eberhard Waechter comeptition in Vienna three years later. Between 1995 and 1997 Lopera was a member of the Opera Ensemble of the Tiroler Landestheater in Innsbruck and he performed all over Europe in numerous productions.
In fact the current role is the one he has performed most frequently since he began his operatic career. “I have done over over 220 performances of The Barber of Seville in 16 different productions. I can tell you the Israeli Opera is very professional.” Lopera thinks his physical and vocal attributes have contributed to him landed the role of so many times. “My type of voice makes it easy to hit the high notes in that role,” he observes. “I have always looked like a young guy, and these roles are very playful – I am a happy and playful character. I can sing quick notes, and the color of my voice is suited to what is required by these kinds of parts. I am a tenor but my voice is very different, for example, from Placido Domingo’s. His sound more heroic, while mine sounds young and playful.”
With so many years of successful operatic work in his CV one might have expected Lopera to have settled into his career by now. The truth he’s looking to get out, and to get back to his medical ways, albeit on the alternative side of the profession. “When I became interested in using music in a therapeutic way I began to discover that in many sacred traditions singing, chanting and using the voice was always to do with therapy, transcendental uses and creating other states of consciousness. That has always has been my main interest when I sing. Sometimes that can happen when you sing. You can reach an alternate state of consciousness and you can be deeply moved.”
Lopera has been putting his mouth where his alternative love is. “Ihave done workshops on voice, on music and the voice as tools to helpin meditation in emotional healing. I do that regularly all over theworld, for example in healing sound seminars, and I want to do more ofthat. In the middle-near future I want to heal more than I sing. Atsome point I will stop singing and devote myself just to healing.”
TheBarber of Seville opens at the Opera House in Tel Aviv tonight and runsuntil March 27. For more information: