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By Juanita Allas-Monaghan
PINOY Contributing Editor
The Accidental Tenor

CHICAGO - When Accounting major Rodell Aure Rosel crashed a Voice class at Santa Monica College in California, he had no idea that eight years later he would be in Chicago to hone his talent in Opera.

      In the next 12 months, Rosel will receive advanced training in numerous aspects of operatic performance, including voice lessons and coaching, language and acting, and master classes with some of opera’s most renowned artists.

      Philippine-born Rosel was chosen from more than 500 singers who audition yearly with the Lyric Opera Center of American Artists in Chicago (LOCAA). To be part of the Opera Center Ensemble means belonging to a professional artist-development program that has been recognized as one of the premier programs of its kind in the world.

      Rosel, 29, is also one of four Grand Prize Winners (each receiving $15,000 toward their studies) in the Metropolitan Opera National House Auditions held in LA.

      Selected from among 1,500 singers, the “character tenor” Rosel, as he calls himself, has a chance to take part in the Met's Lindemann Young Artist Development Program.

      “It was overwhelming,” said Rosel. “All winners were backstage when our names were called and each had to come out on stage. I was the third person called and I was very happy.”

      The finalists in the auditions are likely to go on to noteworthy careers as the concert drew many agents, managers, music and artistic directors scouting for future productions.

      Two days after the competition, Rosel received an offer to perform at the Carnegie Hall (New York) in April with the Collegiate Chorale and at the Long Beach Convention Center (California) for a Gala Show with the Harris Goldman Productions.

Robust singing
The Associated Press reported Rosel to be “the most unusual of the contestants, a diminutive figure who uses his compact body expertly to magnify the effect of his robust singing.”

      To prepare for the auditions, Rosel made sure he had a lot of rest, enough sleep (about eight hours) and proper diet. He has given up caffeine, eats at least three times a day, and drinks plenty of water. Every morning he does plies and stretching exercises he learned from his two years of ballet lessons.

      His first piece was Frantz’ aria (Jour et nuit)' from Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffmann (The Tales of Hoffman). He played the part of Frantz, a deaf and doddering servant, complete with well-timed pratfalls. His second choice was the sinister Worm Aria from Corigliano's ``The Ghosts of Versailles,'' which had its world premiere at the Met.

      In May, Rosel will sing the part of El Remendado in Bizet's Carmen with the Northwest Indiana Symphony in Merillville, Indiana. He will also perform the role of Monostatos in Mozart's The Magic Flute in June with LOCAA.

      For the main stage productions at Lyric Opera of Chicago itself (which starts in September), he will sing El Remendado in Bizet's Carmen, Borsa in Verdi's Rigoletto and a couple of roles in R. Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier, as well as covering (understudying) roles in Puccini's Manon Lescaut, Mozart's The Magic Flute and R. Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier.

All this was unimaginable back in the Fall of 1997 when Rosel happened to enter a Voice class that was already full. He stayed on hoping he could be enrolled in it.

      “When I had the chance to rehearse with the pianist of the class, the pianist insisted that I sing for the teacher, and from there I was drafted to be part of an Opera workshop class.”

      Rosel credits Tim Mussard, renowned singer and teacher at UCLA, for literally changing his approach to opera singing. “He told me to take a specific route/path -- that of ‘character tenor’ and he assured me that I would succeed,” Rosel recalls. “He gave me a stable vocal technique and taught me the reality of being an opera singer.”

      Other role models include Placido Domingo, who sang “Granada,” the very first classical piece he learned, world-renowned mezzo-soprano Marilyn Home, whom he studied with in 2003-2004, and will be working with again in April, and who also supported his decision to become a character tenor.

      Rosel’s parents, Caring and Romy, both working at Los Angeles’ Department of Public Social Services and Family and Children Services, are supportive of his musical career. He belongs to a musical family. His dad and brother, Tolitz, used to be in bands, called “combo” in those days in the Philippines. His other brother, Rommel, was in a dance group. His sister, Maira Ann, is with the US Navy in Virginia. All his siblings and parents alternated driving him to rehearsals, performances and competitions.

Be modest
Rosel was born in 1975 in Makati, Metro Manila, Philippines. He won several amateur singing contests and was well on his way towards a career as a pop singer when at 16Ê fate stepped in and he relocated to the U.S. to join his parents. He admits he would not have discovered Opera had he not come to America.

      Raised in a traditional Filipino way, Rodell, who loves spaghetti
(Filipino style) tortang talong and sinigang na baboy, was admonished to be modest. “Unlike most students, I actually did not apply for loans, so I found ways to raise money for my tuition,” he says. Sales ofÊ his non-commercial CDs (available from his website www.rodellrosel.com). and yearly recitals go towards Rosel’s education.

      His dream is to sing every character tenor part in operatic
repertoire. After the program in Lyric Opera, Rosel looks forward to singing in different cities all over the U.S. and hopefully even in Europe.

      Rosel is aware that with his achievements, the Filipino community may look at him as a role model, and he feels good about it. For those cherishing a dream to succeed in the competitive world of music, his message is:

      “Go for your dream. Find something that you are good at and you know you're the only one capable of doing. Every one is different, that’s why anything is possible. It's not about competing against each other. It's about showing each other's unique talents and abilities.”