From singing mariachi to Il Trovatore: Mexican American tenor breaks barriers in opera

Arturo Chacón-Cruz keeps sharing his "superpower" and talent with audiences all over the world.

ByGloria Rodríguez KGO logo
Friday, October 13, 2023
World-renowned Mexican American tenor breaking barriers in opera
Arturo Chacón-Cruz can bring you to tears with his Italian arias. But Mexican American tenor started his musical journey by singing mariachi songs.

SAN FRANCISCO -- He can bring you to tears with his Italian arias.

But tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz started his musical journey by singing popular Spanish mariachi songs.

The Mexican singer starred in the San Francisco Opera's production of Il Trovatore this season.

"Pavarotti was singing La Boheme here and he also sang Il Trovatore, so big shoes to fill," Chacón-Cruz said while giving ABC7 a backstage tour of the famed War Memorial Opera House.

While opera and mariachi may seem worlds apart, Chacón-Cruz says the genres are similar. For example, you don't use microphones for either and that means you must project your voice.

"Mariachi is almost like opera," Chacón-Cruz said. "I say almost because we tell stories in a very, very short period of time. We tell the whole story in one song and sometimes the songs will connect."

VIDEO: Day of the Dead musical comes to life in San Jose

A Mexican tradition is coming to life and death on stage. The play "La Muerte Baila" is a musical by San Jose's Teatro Visión.

He added," Mariachi has the life, has the joy, has incredible expression through the voice and the music behind you."

Chacón-Cruz has performed in 30 countries and at the most prestigious opera houses around the world but San Francisco holds a special place in his heart.

Arturo made his debut there in 2012. He says it's a homecoming for him.

"They were doing this opera Il Trovatore 20 years ago," he said. "I said to my wife, then fiancé, 'wouldn't that be awesome if I can sing that here one day,' and 20 years to the day, it's happened. So it's a dream maker as well."

Chacón-Cruz is helping younger artists achieve their dreams.

Like Moisés Salazar, his understudy.

MORE: Guillermo of 'Jimmy Kimmel Live!' honored by LA City Council for Latino Heritage Month

"I think my favorite thing about him is that he is such a nice guy and that's one thing you always hope that when you meet your idols - they're nice people and Arturo is very nice and he's also very knowledgeable," Salazar said. "As far as singing goes, he's taught me so much."

"Maester Placido Domingo gave me lessons and scholarship," Chacón-Cruz said. "I studied with the greatest of the greatest and I feel like I didn't deserve it at the time. I was so young. I hadn't done anything. So I feel like life has given me an opportunity to give back some of those blessings."

"He was one of the first tenors that I heard was a Mexican tenor and being Mexican myself, it was very inspiring, encouraging, singing, seeing a Mexican tenor," Salazar said.

Salazar also started his career in mariachi music, then transitioned to opera.

"Opera puts this illusion sometimes that it's inaccessible to everybody," Salazar said. "And so I grew up in Southern California, in the ghetto part of town and it just seems really far away. And so when I realized I could sing it I was like, 'Oh I can do this.'

Chacón-Cruz says being a Mexican singer in the opera world hasn't been easy.

VIDEO: How Latino organizations are spreading arts and culture throughout Bay Area

To celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, we are featuring multiple organizations that are making a difference in the arts.

"I was urged by an early agent to change my name to something Italian so I would be accepted more easily into the into the opera world, which I didn't think it would have been good for my soul," Chacón-Cruz said. "So I said, 'no' and I kept my name and I kept my culture and I kept who I am."

When he first came to the U.S. more than 20 years ago, Chacón-Cruz, who was born in Sonora, Mexico, said he felt a need to hide who he was until:

"I discovered that my superpower was indeed my uniqueness," Chacón-Cruz said. "Once I started being who I was, that's when I started noticing big developments in my career, in my personal life, in my connection with friends."

He emphasizes that to youth.

"You guys have a superpower. All of you. Your superpower is your culture."

He keeps sharing his superpower and talent with audiences all over the world.

Now Streaming 24/7 Click Here

If you're on the ABC7 News app, click here to watch live