From nightclub DJ to international opera star

26. 06. 2024

It will soon be time for one of the highlights of the 72nd Ljubljana Festival, where the opera star Jonathan Tetelman will be our guest. The Chilean-born tenor, who grew up in New Jersey, is considered one of the most exciting upcoming stars of opera, recognised above all for the nuances of his darkly coloured tenor timbre. His first appearance in Slovenia came at the 69th Ljubljana Festival with Elīna Garanča, while last year he appeared at an evening of opera arias with Ludovic Tézier. This year he comes directly from New York to the stage of the Ljubljana Festival, where on 26 June he will appear as Mario Cavaradossi in Puccini’s Tosca. “It’s always nicest in the context of an opera, because instead of simply presenting a part of the whole you get to experience the full development of the character, along with the composer,” says Tetelman.

This Maribor Opera (SNG Maribor Opera Ballet) production of Tosca, the fifth most performed opera in the world, is directed by Pier Francesco Maestrini. The other main roles will be sung by the Slovene soprano Rebeka Lokar and the Serbian baritone Željko Lučić. After earning his undergraduate degree from the Manhattan School of Music and completing studies at Mannes College: the New School for Music in New York, our star guest Jonathan Tetelman took a three-year break before finding his “true voice” as a tenor. Having initially trained as a baritone, he was told that his upper register was his future. Disappointed and frustrated, he headed to the nightlife scene and began spinning discs at New York clubs. As he recently explained, when recalling his singing sabbatical: “I kept saying to people, ‘You know, I’m a DJ, but I’m actually an opera singer.’ And the more I said it, the more I was like: ‘Am I really an opera singer?’”

After concluding that club life wasn’t a future for him, he gave himself six months to return to the world of opera. It turned out to be a smart decision: the transition to tenor revived his career. He began listening to recordings of Luciano Pavarotti, Enrico Caruso, Franco Corelli and Jonas Kaufmann to understand how they used their voices. Working with Mark Schnaible and Patricia McCaffrey, he began building his tenor technique. These days the 36-year-old’s concerts take place in prestigious venues. Following an auspicious debut, he rapidly became one of the most sought-after lyric tenors. Thanks to his distinctive tenor voice, he has ascended into the operatic pantheon as one of the brightest stars of his generation. This year he has appeared as Ruggero in La rondine and Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly at New York’s prestigious Metropolitan Opera.

Among many standout moments last year was his Opus Klassik Award as Young Talent of the Year for his album Arias. BBC Music Magazine called the disc “quite simply a sensation”, while the UK’s Gramophone magazine dubbed Tetelman “the most exciting tenor discovery” since Jonas Kaufmann. The New Yorker, meanwhile, compared him to the late great Alfred Kraus. He is particularly in demand for his roles in the operas of Giacomo Puccini. Regarding his interpretations of Puccini’s works, Tetelman says: “Puccini is my obsession. I listen to him, study him and enjoy his music every day. A lot of my technique is actually built on his compositions. There is always something I can learn from the maestro and my mind is eternally open to him. Without Giacomo Puccini, opera would not be the same.” With this performance of Tosca, starring Jonathan Tetelman, the 72nd Ljubljana Festival will formally mark the centenary of Puccini’s death.