Q & A: María José Montiel On Her Return To The U.S. & Her Upcoming ‘La Gioconda’ At The Liceu

By Francisco Salazar

It’s a big return for María José Montiel. The Spanish mezzo-soprano, who is recognized throughout Spain, has forged a career in opera, recitals, and concerts and has become one of the country’s most acclaimed classical singers of her generations.

But rarely has she traversed the Atlantic to perform in the United States. Her last appearances in the States have been in 2016 and 2012 in her signature “Carmen,” though she has rarely taken a tour to multiple states at a time.

That will change this month as Montiel takes a three-state tour with Ramón Tebar to raise funds for La Fundación Columbus, for which she is an ambassador and a strong advocate.

In a recent interview with the Spanish mezzo, Montiel spoke about the foundation, her recital work, and her return to the Liceu.

OperaWire: What is the experience of working with Ramón Tebar? When was the first time you collaborated and how has the relationship developed since then?

María José Montiel: He is one of those maestros who I understood from the first moment that we started collaborating from a musical standpoint to a personal level. We first worked together in a production of “Carmen” in Florida a few years ago. Ramón Tebar is one of those musicians who is very sensitive, who breathes with the singer and offers you the possibility of giving your best. That is not something all maestros have. He is not only a great conductor but also a great pianist.

The truth is that I am extremely happy to be able to make music with him and even more excited to do it in a recital. In this format, we’re able to share more intimacy and create a magical experience for the audience.

OW: What are some of the musical selections for this recital?

MJM: We’re going to perform music by Manuel de Falla and some French music by Reynaldo Hahn, Chausson and Camille Saint-Saëns. There will also be some operatic repertoire from “Carmen” and “Samson and Dalila.” We’ll also have some Latin American repertoire. It will be beautiful and all the works have been chosen with care. So I hope the audience enjoys the program and I hope to make wonderful music with Maestro Tebar.

OW: When you program your recitals, is it important for you to program Latin and Spanish music?

MJM: I think it is important to program Spanish music regardless of whatever is on the program. I think it is important to showcase our culture and our roots. Our music and culture are huge and beautiful and we should be proud of what we have. So we have to move it around the world so people can finally appreciate it.

OW: Aside from the recital with Opera Naples, you’ll be on tour with Tebar around the United States. What cities will you visit? 

MJM: Before the recital in Naples, I will present la Fundación Columbus, which I am currently an ambassador of. Maestro Tebar will be at the piano with cellist Ángel Luís Quintana and we will perform in North Carolina and Washington. La Fundación Columbus was founded last December in Valencia for fundraising and financing innovative treatments for children with cancer and other rare illnesses. It’s the most exciting benefit program I have ever been a part of and I feel privileged to use my voice to help these children who need it the most.

OW: Tell me a little bit about the foundation and its goals?

MJM: The foundation’s objective is to find initiatives that will make advanced treatments more accessible to people who need them, particularly to children. In this sense, the foundation has presented a new program that will facilitate access to proton therapy for children that have cancer so that they can be treated in European clinics. The program also aims to help them secure the means to be moved to these clinics and be treated properly. Proton therapy is a type of radiotherapy that reduces the effects of conventional therapy.

I am so happy to be able to present this foundation to the United States as it will help bring awareness to the world and show the urgency of developing new techniques so we can offer the best care to children around the world who need it.

OW: You return to the Gran Teatre del Liceu de Barcelona as La Cieca in “La Gioconda.” What excites you about singing at this theater?

MJM: At the Liceu, I sang “Carmen” a few seasons ago in a production by Calixto Bieito. For that production, I won the award for Best Female singer from la Fundación Premios Líricos Teatro Campoamor and I am extremely excited to return. The Liceu is one of the most important in the world as it has a huge tradition, and where many of the greatest singers have performed. To return to Barcelona, where I also have many friends, is always a pleasure and a great responsibility.

OW: What excites you about singing “La Gioconda,” an opera that is rarely presented? What do you think of La Cieca?

MJM: I had the opportunity of debuting La Cieca at the Opéra de París in 2013. The production by Pier Luigi Pizzi was the same one we will use this season in Barcelona and it was an amazing experience. “La Gioconda” is a complete work in many aspects. It has a great dramatic spirit and many theatrical aspects that allow directors to create great spectacles. But it is hardly performed for many reasons. One of the biggest reasons is that it’s hard to get a cast of singers that can perform the difficult score. But Ponchielli was a genius in finding a balance in the score and including some of the most popular passages in operatic history.

I’ll never forget the first time I performed it in Paris. It was a beautiful surprise that I never expected. I studied it with so much care and utter respect for the music. Although it isn’t a long role, it La Cieca gives me so many opportunities to create and to showcase my interpretative skills and musicianship. I’ll never forget the audience’s response and all the great reviews. Now I am excited to return to the role and this time in Barcelona, where audiences have given me so much and where they have embraced many of my performances.

OW: This year you’ll also be recording a new Album? Tell me about the repertoire that you’ll be working on and what excites you about this upcoming project?

MJM: I’ve had the great fortune of recording numerous solo albums in particular albums dedicated to song, a genre I love and that has allowed me to express myself. I always enjoy every moment in the recording process because from the start I get to choose the repertoire and then get to work with the pianist on such an intimate level. I also love the recording process because when you get into the studio so many people work with such great energy to crystallize all the work that has happened over the past months.

This new recording is very special to me because I am working with my friend and pianist Rubén Fernández Aguirre and it will be dedicated to composer José Padilla. Padilla was a genius and the composer “Valencia o La Violetera” and he also wrote many popular songs. His work has been interpreted by such great artists like Raquel Meller, Tito Schipa, Barbra Streisand, and Sara Montiel. He also composed more than 300 films and “La Violetera” was chosen by Charles Chaplin for “City Light.”

And for this CD we will concentrate on many of Padilla’s forgotten works and we hope we can take him out of the shadows with this recording. Together with Rubén we already performed a recital dedicated to his work at the Teatro de La Zarzuela and the audience was thrilled. This is what we expect with this new CD.


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