zlh.jpgThis April, two talented and charming Puerto Rican singers will make their Opera Santa Barbara debuts: soprano Zulimar López-Hernández as Norina and tenor Javier Abreu as Ernesto. Zulimar starts things off with a bang: “The last time I sang Norina, her aria was staged in the bathtub; I had to get out of the tub and put on a robe while singing – without revealing to the audience more of the character than I intended!” laughs the soprano. Possible wardrobe malfunctions aside, Javier summed up Don Pasquale’s enduring appeal: “The opera itself is one of Donizetti’s best: the plot is simple and easy to follow, and it combines just the right amount of slapstick with those moments that tug at your heartstrings.”

Neither singer is new to their roles. Javier notes: “Ernesto is the quintessential romantic bel canto tenor. He can be a bit oblivious and over-dramatic but his pure intentions lead him down the right path in the end.” This production marks Zulimar’s third Pasquale. “I make Norina as true and honest as possible,” she says. “This is a girl who is in love and she’ll do whatever it takes to defend that love – maybe even going a bit too far in the process. She is a strong, hands-on person who thinks she knows everything!”

Balancing Don Pasquale’s humor and high notes is trickier than it looks; however, Ernesto’s music doesn’t pose much threat to Javier: “The high extension is something I always had – of course, lessons and coaching helped. My first teacher taught that if the middle voice is warm and agile, the extremes will always be there – and he’s right!”  The secret behind Zulimar’s scintillating trill is intention. “I had a great maestro tell me once, ‘Intention relieves the throat’. In bel canto, you have to find that intention as well as a full palette of vocal colors. It can be tricky – but that’s why we rehearse!”

nemorino_1_bigFor Zulimar, “inspiration comes from watching any artist who performs with passion and full commitment. I adore Maria Callas and Natalie Dessay, but I also love Michael Jackson – in my opinion he is one of the best performer there will ever be. I’m inspired by people who think outside the box and work really hard for what makes them really happy – no matter the sacrifice.” Javier is looking forward to returning to Santa Barbara, where he was a 2002 Music Academy student. You may run into the tenor if you know where to look: “I cannot wait to return to Butterfly Beach. It is simply enchanting.”

OSB’s Puerto Rican Pasquale pair was purely coincidental, but Zulimar has an idea why so many talented singers have come from the island: “Puerto Rico has great, dedicated teachers who guide and support up-and-coming opera students – now we all have to do our part to keep art in our schools. We have a very musical culture; an agent once asked me, ‘Is there something in the water down there?’ I think that maybe there is!”