Javier Camarena made a splash with his back-to-back Met appearances in La Cenerentola and La Sonnambula in 2014. Now the fast-rising Mexican tenor is back singing Ernesto in Don Pasquale—and talks about comedy, encores, and connecting with audiences.
You made a very successful Met debut in Il Barbiere di Siviglia in 2011, but the performances that really put you on the map with New York audiences were those in La Sonnambula and La Cenerentola two seasons ago. What made these productions so special?
La Cenerentola really was a “before and after” moment for me. It was a huge challenge to jump in [for Juan Diego Flórez] and I never thought how relevant the role of Don Ramiro would become in my career. It’s one of the operas I love most. In Sonnambula I just loved to work with Diana Damrau and [conductor] Marco Armiliato.
With La Cenerentola, you became one of the few artists to sing an encore on the Met stage. What did that feel like?
It was one of the most beautiful and exciting moments in my career. And as I’ve said before, it was the energy, the atmosphere in the theater that made these performances so special for me. I believe this is actually what every artist is looking for—not the encore, but this kind of connection, of relationship between you and the public. When you see the audience react, as they did at the Met on those nights, not only to a voice but to a message you want to communicate, that’s really the biggest satisfaction.
If you compare Ernesto in Don Pasquale to some of the other bel canto roles you’ve sung, what are the specific rewards and challenges?
Ernesto is one of the more difficult roles in the Donizetti catalogue. It’s not a huge part—he’s on stage maybe for half of the opera—but I think most tenors would agree that it’s not the most comfortable role to sing. It’s a challenge to your technique and your knowledge of bel canto style. The reward of course is to
get to sing some awesome and beautiful melodies and an amazing duet just before the end of the opera.
Do you enjoy playing comedy?
I do! And I do it as seriously as possible. Ernesto doesn’t know he’s playing a comedy—but the situation he’s living is funny. And he’s living it as seriously as the joy, love, or pain he is feeling. A character can be serious or funny, but the comedy is in the situations.
You’ll be returning next season in I Puritani, reuniting with Diana Damrau…
Diana is not only a beautiful person, she’s also an amazing colleague—fun, professional, and easy to work with. I’m really looking forward to doing this beautiful opera with her! —Philipp Brieler