News Column

Operatic singers scale aerial notes

August 24, 2014

By Kathaleen Roberts, Albuquerque Journal, N.M.

Aug. 24--Javier Gonzalez's resume includes performances with Placido Domingo and world-renowned choral composer John Rutter.

But don't expect this Southern California native to bow to theatrics when it comes to those high-altitude C notes that give audiences a visceral thrill.

"The high C note sometimes gets overrated," Gonzalez said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles. "That's what people pay to see."

The operatic tenor and Albuquerque soprano Cammy Cook will sing duets from "La boheme," "Don Pasquale" and Spanish operetta at St. John's United Methodist Church this afternoon.

"For me, it's about honoring the integrity of the music," Gonzalez continued. "If it's just about the high Cs, you've missed so much of the music -- the story and the heart."

Cook views scaling those aerial notes with equanimity.

"I've done it a couple of times," she said. "Sometimes they sparkle and others... We love them and we love to do them and we hope it's a good day. I've never crashed and burned so far."

Gonzalez and Cook will sing "O soave fanciulla," the famous duet from "La boheme," a piece as celebrated for its high Cs as it is for its beauty. The duo also will perform the "Nocturne" from Donizetti's "Don Pasquale." Albuquerque pianist Amy Greer will accompany them.

"I've heard it described as a love duet that doesn't require music," Cook said of the latter. "The music is in thirds and we basically mimic each other. A waltz is probably the best way to describe it."

A Spanish zarzuela will follow the classic duets. Zarzuela is a Spanish lyric-dramatic genre alternating between spoken and sung scenes.

"I don't think there's any other nationalistic music that is as distinctive as Spanish music," Cook said. "It's very, very passionate. It's (about) a tumultuous relationship. He's bringing me back in, but I'm saying, 'No, it's not worth the pain.'"

Gonzalez earned his master's degree in music at the University of New Mexico, where he also sang in the St. John's chorus and helped conduct a service or two.

The tenor began singing while taking piano lessons at age 5. But it was a New Mexico competition that clinched his passion for singing professionally. He went to Reserve High School, where there wasn't much of a music program. Then he entered a statewide chorus competition and won.

"I was the first one to win that came from that high school ever," he said. "That was the 'aha' moment in terms of knowing music was a career path for me."

Gonzalez auditioned and won a scholarship to Washington Adventist University in Maryland. Today he's a voice professor at La Sierra University near Los Angeles.

Born in Alamogordo, Cook has lived in Albuquerque since she was 5 years old. A Manzano High School graduate, she earned a flute scholarship to the University of New Mexico before switching to voice. She studied both piano and flute, but her chorus teacher encouraged her vocal prowess.

"She told me she thought I had kind of a one-of-a-kind voice and she thought I could go all the way," Cook said. "I was an accidental opera singer. I got to college and they handed me an aria and I said, 'What's an aria?'"

Cook would go on to sing in "Madame Butterfly," "Gianni Schicchi" and "A Way Home" at Opera Southwest and in the chorus of this summer's Santa Fe Opera production of "Fidelio."

St. John's has maintained its concert program for nearly 10 years, offering from five to six events annually, Music Director Matthew Greer said.

If you go

WHAT: "Music at St. John's Concert" with Cammy Cook, soprano; Javier Gonzalez, tenor; and Amy Greer, pianist

WHEN: 2 today

WHERE: St. John's United Methodist Church, 2626 Arizona NE

HOW MUCH: Free-will donation. Call 833-9717 or visit


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Source: Albuquerque Journal (NM)

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