"Singing is like cooking. The time that makes the flavours change is important."
The programme selected by Galeano Salas for his recital in December 2019 spans almost two hundred years. He will sing in five languages that evening. A varied, entertaining programme that wonderfully reflects the character of the Mexican-Texan tenor: "The Ginastera is real fun!”
We met the ensemble member at the beginning of the season for a drink (it was actually an Apfelschorle) and talked about voice training, his first big jump-in and the Munich Wertstoffhof. (⇒ Deutsche Version)
If I've done my research right, Galeano means “gift of God”. Is your voice also a gift of God?
I don’t know where you read that, but I hope you can send me the website. I like that! Laughs. I wouldn't say my voice is a gift from God. Many people have beautiful voices- especially in opera. However, someone has praised my voice as such in the past. When I first started singing, I wasn’t sure I wanted to do opera, I wanted to sing pop music because I came from a different background and then I had one coach who got me thinking seriously about opera and he said he felt, my voice had been kissed by God and was meant for the genre.
When did you realize that you wanted to become a singer?
In my twenties. I started singing when I was 19, at college. First, I wanted to become an engineer, then switched to theatre and then to music. As a child I dreamt of being a Formula One racer.
Opera singing is a bit like a Formula One race.
That is true! There are very specific and heavy demands for each “race”.
What do you have to do to train your voice?
I was watching an interview with B. B. King and he said, if there is something you want to make better, the most important thing to do is practice. True! It does not have to be in an official practice room. Just always keep turning things in your head. They develop on their own. It’s like when you are cooking. That cooking time makes the flavours change, it's an important aspect of cooking and comparable to singing.
In the summer I was separated from opera a lot, but I was listening to other really interesting music and now as I work on my Liederabend I am trying to incorporate these colours in. Using slightly jazzy and straight-tone effects – not what I typically do.
You have chosen works by Beethoven, Britten, Duparc, Bellini and Ginastera for your recital. What do you associate with these composers?
They are all tied into my life. I have two good Argentinian friends who I saw this summer. They made me think of the Ginastera. The Bellini set has the first classical song I ever sang in my entire life – for my audition to music school at that. I feel a connection to each piece and I also wanted to have a good variety of music. Ginastera is interesting because he adopted the songs I am singing after local Argentinian dances. The first is a type of dance you start by tapping your feet to set the rhythm. He has given each dance style his own flair. I can also say the same about Benjamin Britten. I am singing some of his Folk Songs. The melody is simple and beautiful, but he has added some extra complexities into his harmonies and rhythms. I think the Ginastera is real fun. People will enjoy it!
You will sing in five different languages. How do you do that?
Practice! Laughs. Ginastera and Britten come more naturally, because Spanish and English are my mother tongues. Bellini, well, most of the repertoire I sing is in Italian. And French I love to sing. That leaves Beethoven, that I have to work on really hard. I am singing that for the first time in front of a German audience at that.
So, is the whole programme settled already?
Oh no, a lof of the details are still on the way. I am seeing different people, who are helping me with the diction and style for instance. I'm also working with Henning Ruhe, the pianist, of course, but I want to get many different ideas and perspectives. Having all these facets with each person helps you understand each piece in a different way, which helps you decide what you like and what you want to say with the music. Slowly the right path starts becoming clear.
I know that a few weeks ago you tried to bring so many things to the Wertstoffhof at once that they actually had to send you to a bigger one. Does Munich already feel a bit like "home" to you now?
Yes, it does. Having lived in Mexico and the US has helped me to adjust quickly.
Do you miss the US or Mexico?
Yes, when I see my family. There are so many things happening, new children being born, while I am far away. That's difficult. But I also enjoy being part of a new culture. And now, when I go back to the US I realize, I have changed in the way I think and act – for the better.
Will you go to the Oktoberfest?
Definitely! I am going on the opening day.
I should definitely start looking for some.
Three years ago, when you became a member of the Opernstudio, what was your first impression?
My audition was in the US, so everything we did beforehand, we did from afar. When I arrived, I realized the scope of everything that had been written and described to me. There is something really amazing and present and important about the work done here at the Staatsoper. The cast, the level of music making – it’s impressive.
Who were your heroes when you were a child?
My wife has some important childhood heroes, Frida Kahlo, the 18th US president to name a few. Well, I have the Ninja Turtles and Peter Pan.
And who do you admire today?
Tough question. I admire qualities of certain people, not a certain person. I like people that are resourceful. Just one random example: Ashton Kutcher is an actor, who was a very successful model and now he has turned his mind to investing. I know he is not a Da Vinci, but I admire people who excel in various aspects.
When towards the end of the conversation Jonas Kaufmann suddenly appears at our café table to greet his colleague, the answer is supplemented.
Of course, I could name him as a role model. Just like with Matthew Polenzani and Piotr Beczala, they took their time with their careers and I like that. Some things need that time to develop.
Forbes Mexico voted you one of the most creative Mexicans in 2018.
That was unexpected, exciting! I was on a list with Carlos Santana, Rolando Villazón, Javier Camarena. Overwhelming..It was my cousin who wrote, you wouldn’t believe what I just found. But in a lot of ways I am very uncreative. I like things to be organized, I don’t like mess. If someone says, 'Galeano, I’d like you to sing this opera role, but I haven’t written a note, that would be crazy to think about.' There's too many possibilities. But if instead he says, 'there is little coloratura, it's in a language that you already know and it is based on a young man’s life,' well that is something you can work with. Some discipline and restriction is helpful. It can give you even more freedom.
Which production challenged you the most?
In terms of “demands as an artist”, it was From the House of the Dead. I had the smallest role, I sang 13 notes, but then Castorf kept allowing me to go further and further. Every time I improvised to leave the stage he would say: “Come back through here.” A cool experience! I had to speak some Spanish bible text to the audience. I had never been asked to do those things before. From a vocal standpoint the most demanding was the role of Rinuccio.
Three words to describe 23 December 2017, when you jumped in for Pavol Breslik as Rinuccio in Gianni Schicchi:
WHAT A DAY!
The opera informed me two and a half hours before the show opened. That was a one hundred percent creative and chaotic moment. Everything was going crazy around me, but I still had to do my job. I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. The camaraderie I felt with Pavol Breslik was very special. And at the same time, I had family coming into town for Christmas, who got lost and were calling me during the performance!
Last question: Which encore would you never give at a lieder recital?
Nessun dorma at the end would probably not be appropriate for a formal Liederabend. Having said that, I cannot say I would never do it. I might have a long career … someone might ask it of me. Laughs.
Galeano Salas' recital will take place on 9 December 2019, 7 PM at Wernicke-Saal.
Please note that due to illness the original date of Galeano Salas' recital on 8 October 2019 has been changed.
The interview was conducted by