UPDATE: Tenor Juan José de Léon (Meadows, M.M. ’10) has been offered two roles next season with the world-renowned La Scala: Remendado in Carmen and Arturo in Lucia di Lammermoor. In addition, he has been offered roles in two Opéra de Paris productions: La Cenerentola in 2017 and Capriccio (date to be determined).
Dressed in a T-shirt and distressed gray jeans, Juan José de Léon ’10 stood at the front of the classroom, looking like a high-tech entrepreneur about to launch a new gadget. Instead, the tenor filled the air with a glorious thunder, the “big voice” that has earned him opera roles across the globe.
De Léon returned to SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts earlier this semester to catch up with former teacher Professor of Voice Virginia Dupuy and sit in on one of her classes. He and Dupuy met after he completed a bachelor’s degree in music at the University of North Texas in 2008 and was making the rounds to find the right program for the next stage of his training.
“I had one lesson with Virginia, and she had me singing in ways I hadn’t before,” he recalled. “We hit it off. We were a good fit.”
As the students sang their assigned pieces, de Léon listened intently. He offered words of praise – “such a good job of singing in character” – and some pointers – “really focus on your diction.” The students seemed a bit intimidated by his presence, but grateful for the rare opportunity to gain constructive feedback from a rising star on the international opera scene.
His recent visit to campus occurred during a break between engagements. His next stop was the Metropolitan Opera in New York. In October he made his debut with the Met in the American premiere of Two Boys, a new opera by Nico Muhly.
Having completed a two-year residency with the Pittsburgh Opera, de Léon calls Dallas home again. He is “pretty much booked up for the next two years,” with performances in Chicago, Atlanta, Stuttgart, Sydney and other cities in the United States and abroad.
“I don’t have to live in New York; I just need to be close to a major airport,” he joked.
Earlier this year, he was a semi-finalist in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and performed in the American debut of “I Sing Beijing” at Lincoln Center. He spent the summer performing with the renowned Wolf Trap Opera Company in Virginia.
Among other accolades, de Léon was a winner of the Dallas Opera Guild Vocal Competition in 2010 and made his Dallas Opera debut in 2011 in Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette.
As a Meadows graduate student, he participated in the Dallas Opera/SMU Emerging Artists Program, presenting the “Opera in a Box: Follow Your Dreams” touring arts program to schools in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Such programs, which introduce opera to new generations, are crucial to the future of opera, he said.
“Opera is very much alive,” he said. “Companies are finding new ways to bring in younger patrons. At Pittsburgh, we had an outreach program for younger children and performed for 3,000 kids. They went crazy; it was like a rock concert.
“It’s gratifying when audiences are so engaged,” he added. “Their enthusiasm is contagious; you give back even more when you perform.”