Baritone Efraín Solís answers our questions about self-care, favorite singers, and more in advance of three appearances with NYFOS this season: García Lorca: Magician and Muse on April 24 at Merkin Hall and Manning the Canon on June 23 in Orient, NY and on June 25 at the LGBT Center in NYC.
You completed the prestigious Adler Fellowship program at San Francisco Opera in 2016 and since then you’ve been singing with opera companies and orchestras across the country. How have you found the transition from the young artist residency to your fully-launched professional career? Any surprises? Particular challenges?
Going through the Adler Fellowship at San Francisco Opera was a challenging but gratifying experience. I learned so much as an Adler about myself and what I was capable of. SF Opera trusted me so much from the get go and I found myself in several high pressure situations during my two years there. Thankfully, there was constant encouragement from the musical and administrative staff at both the Opera Center and SF Opera. I found a lot of comfort in my daily rituals—coffee and exercise every morning. To this day that’s what keeps me sane on the road, which is a major part of transitioning out of the young artist phase. Ultimately, the music is worth the stress of being on the road so much.
You sing a wide variety of repertoire, from the title role in Le Nozze di Figaro to Blitzstein’s The Cradle Will Rock. How do you navigate singing in those different styles? In what ways do you adjust your technique or your approach?
I enjoy bouncing around different styles; it keeps me on my toes and entertained as well. I don’t think much about changing “technique” but I liken it to driving. When you’re in a big theater you have to give a little more gas, but in a recital hall you can take your foot off the pedal and play with softer tones and colors without worrying about being heard. I also am a big musical theater fan and take any opportunity to stretch that muscle when possible. But even then the breath and sound production doesn’t really change. I simply think in that style and the muscles know what to do. Thomas Hampson said to me once that thinking about color and style had nothing to do with “technique” and everything to do with breathing into the space of that emotion. That theory has stayed with me for years.
If you could sing with any performer from the past, whom would it be? What would you sing?
I’m a Callas fan through and through. If there were one singer I would’ve loved to simply be in the presence of on stage, it would be her. I’d be happy to sing “Per voi” in Traviata to her Violetta. Non-operatic singer, I’d choose Jose Alfredo Jimenez. He is one of the most prolific mariachi composers and singers that ever came out of Mexico.
You are appearing in two very different NYFOS shows this season: Garcia Lorca: Muse and Magician in April and Manning the Canon in June. What do you find most compelling about each program? Which songs are you most excited to perform?
I’m very excited to sing both programs. The Lorca because I studied Spanish and Latin American Literature in my undergrad extensively. His poetry is simple and deep; he loved learning, which effected so much of his writing. I’m enjoying reading his poetry and seeing how composers chose to heighten its emotional landscapes. I’m very excited about the Bolcom “Sonata” we are performing—it has many tricky florid passages which mirror Lorca’s love for Cante Flamenco and el Cantaor (Flamenco Song and Flamenco Singer). I haven’t gotten to sink my teeth into the Manning program, but I’m very excited for the varied program Steven has planned!
Outside of NYFOS, do you have any upcoming projects that you are especially looking forward to?
I am considering a cross country trip for my 30th birthday, so if anyone has any tips let me know!
Since you are our Mr. April, can you share your favorite things about spring? Or tips for surviving spring showers and high pollen counts?
I travel with a lot of allergy relief supplies. Zyrtec, a humidifier, neti-pot. I unfortunately suffer from serious spring allergies, which means I have to be extremely proactive. Years of trial and error have taught me that a humidifier could very well make or break a month long stay in a hotel.
What was the last music you listened to before answering these questions?
It would be the cast of Cruzar la Cara de la Luna by Pepe Martinez, here in El Paso, TX. This commission by Houston Grand Opera is one of my favorite pieces to perform and every sing through with this cast moves me to tears.
When you aren’t making music, what is your favorite way to spend your time?
I enjoy yoga and running daily. Without it I would not be able to survive as a traveling musician. Being from Southern California I find so much happiness at the beach, so you can find me close to the water regularly when I’m home. I also spend as much time with children as I can, especially my close friends’s kids at home. I have so much fun running around and playing with them, and always babysit for free.
NYFOS is devoted to ‘song’ and the wide variety of styles that term encompasses. What is special about ‘song’ to you? Is there anything about this particular form that is significant to you?
Song is so important to me. My grandmother used to sing all the time when I was a kid. Even now I visit her whenever I am home. If I put on a song she loves she has an involuntary response and has to sing. I try to recreate a bit of that when I’m singing songs. It’s a piece of me I can share with the audience.
What is your favorite song? (Qualify your answer to this possibly impossible question as needed.)
At this exact moment it would have to be “Dear someone” which I used for one of my “Song of the Day” entries on the NYFOS blog. So, if you’d like to hear that head on over to the blog.