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From Middle School Choir to the Met; Tenor David Portillo Brings His Talent Home

Tenor David Portillo has gone from the west side of San Antonio to the Metropolitan Opera, and returned home in late February for a recital at the Tuesday Musical Club, as well as workshops with area students. Nearly 200 people attended the 2 p.m. concert on Feb. 23 at Laurel Heights United Methodist Church, which included a healthy helping of Spanish-language favorites, as well as an aria from one of Portillo’s dream roles, Nemorino in The Elixir of Love.

Portillo was exposed to music early in life. His father was the pastor at First Baptist Church for the Hispanic congregation, and his mother taught music at the Hispanic Baptist Theological Seminary on the city’s south side. Singing was something he had always done, and when it came time to pick an elective at Pease Middle School, Portillo chose choir.

“I had a really great seventh grade choir director,” Portillo remembered. “I remember really enjoying solfege, and I remember having a lot of friends in choir, and it became a little community for me at school. A lot of those kids I grew up with, I still keep in touch with.”

Credit Nathan Cone / TPR
Greg Ritchey and David Portillo.

Portillo continued singing while at Holmes High School, and eventually attended both UTSA and the University of North Texas for undergraduate and graduate studies. Portillo says the encouragement he got from others definitely helped him with his career.

“It also helps when somebody hands you a paycheck,” Portillo said with a hearty laugh. “So when you get your first job, it’s like ‘maybe I can do that!’”

In 2014, Portillo found himself onstage at the famed Metropolitan Opera, opposite soprano Isabel Leonard in “The Barber of Seville.” Portillo said the experience was fantastic, and the English-language version of the opera they sang reminded him of the importance of sharing opera with new audiences. He specifically cited the Met’s “Live in HD” series as a way opera communities are growing across the nation, and also said visiting with members of the Children’s Chorus of San Antonio while back home was inspiring.

In recital, Portillo brought fire to the music of Spanish composer Fernando Obradors, and brought down the house with Mexican songwriter Agustin Lara’s signature “Granada.”

Portillo also sang “Una Furtiva Lagrima” from Gaetano Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love. “I have never performed the role,” Portillo said. “It’s about time that it’s gonna happen. Even if it happens in somebody’s basement, that’d be fine!”

Paging the Met… your next Nemorino awaits!

Hear David Portillo's recital on KPAC 88.3 FM and KTXI 90.1 FM at 7 p.m. on Saturday, April 2. TPR's Nathan Cone hosts 'Performance Saturday.'