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Friday, 30 March, 2001, 18:26 GMT 19:26 UK
Tito Beltran: Pop goes the opera
Tito Beltran as Tebaldo in I Capuleti E I Montecchi
Critics love Beltran's "high, vibrant" style
By BBC News Online's Olive Clancy

Chilean opera star Tito Beltran - who stars in I Capuleti e i Montecchi at the Royal Opera House (ROH) - used to have "no time" for opera and began his singing career in a pop band.

These days he is very much the rising opera star - this year he will sing for the San Francisco Opera, the Munich Festival and the Vienna Statsoper as well as at the ROH in Covent Garden.

It was not always like this.

Tito Beltran and Elena Kelessidi
Beltran has recorded three solo albums
Beltran was born in Patagonia, southern Chile, a place where opera does not have a high profile.

"We call it the end of the world," Beltran told BBC News Online.

"And I have to admit that as a boy I said 'opera no, no, no', switch it off. I had no time for it."

The story continues as the young Tito - short for Ernesto or Ernestito in the diminutive - was ejected from the school choir for singing too loudly.

"They asked me to go back a bit, then back a bit more, they put me on the side where the mic couldn't pick up my voice and then they asked me to open the door and go out," remembers Beltran, laughing, clearly unscathed by his early put-down.

Shocking

The young Beltran had other outlets for his precocious talent - he says he started singing pop songs at the age of five, inspired by movie tenor Mario Lanza.

By the time he was a teenager he was in a full-fledged rock n'roll band singing South American pop.

But he was not the average pop singer with his tendency to throw some Schubert songs into the average pop set - "to shock the audience".

"I always seem to shock people - I don't know why," he says with an innocence you cannot quite believe.


Don't make the mistake I made of going to see a Wagner opera - I just heard some people screaming and singing loudly and it was all too heavy

Tito Beltran

Even in his opera manifestation, Beltran has shocked some classical figures by his tendency to record cross-over material, film songs and popular arias.

But as Beltran points out, shrugging off the criticism: "Its music and its one way to get people to listen a bit more to the kind of music I do."

An interviewer once asked him what he thought of Pavarotti and he replied that he thought the tenor was "fantastic".

But then he said: "But I know something he can't do," and proceeded to walk around the room singing.

Beltran is quick to add that when he is working he is totally professional and no doubt the knowledge that he is the father of three young children keeps him serious.

Tito Beltran
Beltran initially trained as an electrician and mechanic
In 1986 Beltran moved to Sweden to study and decided to go to a singing teacher to help along his voice - largely to help his pop career.

"She said: 'Oh my God you're a tenor and I said is that good?', I was 20 and I didn't really know so much," said Beltran.

The rest is history as Beltran has gone from strength to strength, debuting at the Royal Opera House in 1999.

Beltran is one of those who feel opera needs to modernise itself and do away with its stuffy image.

Dramatic

He points to a new generation of singers who breathe life into and actually act their characters.

"You need to train your body to look good on stage so you can move and do good things," says the tenor who can sing whilst walking on his hands.

And he is very frank about what he likes and what he hates to sing.

"I sing popular repertoire because it is what I like to do - Puccini, Bellini," he said.

"I don't like the boring things - some opera I don't really like and I'm never going to sing it."

Loves and hates

He is coy about naming what exactly he does not like but his advice for novice opera-goers was telling.

"Don't make the mistake I made of going to see a Wagner opera - I just heard some people screaming and singing loudly and it was all too heavy."

And what he does like, he loves.

"My first dramatic role was Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar and I loved it.

It was dramatic, like Tebaldo in I Capuleti e i Montecchi in fact - dramatic, with feelings, with power.

Tito Beltran opens as Tebaldo in I Capuleti E I Montecchi by Bellini at the Royal Opera House on 31 March.

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