Christmas Concert Guest Artist Embraces Chance to Perform

Contributed By R. Scott Lloyd, Church News staff writer

  • 9 December 2016

Rolando Villazón speaks during a press conference about the upcoming Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square Christmas concert at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, December 7, 2016. Villazón is the featured guest artist and narrator for the 2016 Christmas concert. Photo by Laura Seitz, Deseret News.

Article Highlights

  • Guest artist Rolando Villazón appeared at a press conference the day before the first of the three concert performances.
  • Mr. Villazón was effusive in his praise of the choir and orchestra.

“Regardless of what your beliefs are, what your religion is, I think that Christmastime opens the heart. … We need a world that unites us, and that’s not easy these days. Every opportunity we have to send that message is important.” Rolando Villazón

While Rolando Villazón was recording his solo parts for the recent release of Handel’s Messiah by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square, music director Mack Wilberg realized, “We have to bring Rolando to Salt Lake City, and the very best way of doing that would be to invite him to be part of our Christmas concert.”

Thus it was that the world-renowned operatic tenor, who makes his home in France but was born near Mexico City, became this year’s guest artist for the annual concert by the choir and orchestra.

And thus it was that the tenor had a residual affection for the singers and musicians when he arrived to rehearse with them in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City.

“It only took him about five minutes with the choir and orchestra to get them wrapped around his finger,” choir President Ron Jarrett said. “They totally love him and have accepted him as part of the choir. He is a wonderful person.”

Brother Jarrett and Brother Wilberg appeared with the guest artist at a news conference December 7, the day before the first of the three concert performances.

With some amusement, Mr. Villazón recounted his experience coming through security with his passport at the airport in Salt Lake City. An agent asked the purpose of his visit.

“I said, ‘I will sing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.’ And he said, ‘Oh, you must be good then!’”

Rolando Villazón speaks during a press conference about the upcoming Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square Christmas concert at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, December 7, 2016. Villazón is the featured guest artist and narrator for the 2016 Christmas concert. Photo by Laura Seitz, Deseret News.

Mr. Villazón was effusive in his praise of the choir and orchestra, saying that the excellence of the performers was immediately obvious when he first came into the hall of the Conference Center to rehearse with them.

“One thinks if you put all these good voices together, it will immediately sound good. No, that’s not true. It takes a lot of work. So that was my first impression, hearing this beautiful, homogenous sound.”

But their technical skill was not all he noticed. “The reason why they do it” also impressed him.

“This enthusiasm for being there, it brings something to the music. It brings a special energy. It brings all the little substances that have to be in music making. And I think that every single voice, every single person playing, they are special individuals. … lt was very beautiful, this unselfish part of it, the pure love of joining into everything and delivering this music and this sound as a gift.

“And so, what then do you feel? You feel inspired, and it was wonderful to start rehearsing with them, to talk to them. The feeling is also very friendly, very warm, a genuine, welcoming feeling. It was so easy to start making jokes, to talk to them, to be part of this whole that I was so very impressed to listen to and to see.”

Asked why, of all the things he might be doing at Christmastime, he chose to appear with the choir and orchestra, he replied, “As Mack was saying, the time we were together was special. I was very happy, and I also was very interested to come and perform with this wonderful choir. I mean, their reputation is, of course, fantastic.”

He was somewhat familiar with the choir through the work of his colleague Bryn Terfel, the Welsh bass-baritone who has appeared and recorded with the choir.

“I had already heard about how wonderful the music-making was,” he said. “but I also thought that it’s a beautiful location.”

The occasion, a Christmas concert, is also beautiful, he said.

“You know what Christmas is about. Regardless of what your beliefs are, what your religion is, I think that Christmastime opens the heart. Christmas is a time that sends us to be with others, and I think that’s what we need—a world that embraces each of us as human beings. We need a world that unites us, and that’s not easy these days. Every opportunity we have to send that message is important.”

Ron Jarrett, president of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir; Rolando Villazón; and Mormon Tabernacle Choir music director Mack Wilberg speak during a press conference about the upcoming Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square Christmas concert at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, December 7, 2016. Villazón is the featured guest artist and narrator for the 2016 Christmas concert. Photo by Laura Seitz, Deseret News.

The Christmas concert, with its context and talented artists combined with its means of dissemination, is a powerful way to spread that meaning and message of Christmas, he said.

In a departure from past custom, Mr. Villazón this year was the only guest at the concert. Past events have typically included both a musical guest and an actor or other celebrity to do the narration, including the traditional reading of the story of the birth of Christ from Luke.

“Not only is he well-known for his vocal talents, but he hosts his own television show, he’s an author, he’s a stage director, he wears many, many hats and does them all very well,” Brother Wilberg noted.

He has his own television series in France and Germany, Stars von morgen. He released his debut novel, Malabares, in 2013; he speaks Spanish, French, German, and English; and he draws and animates cartoons of himself, which he features on his website.

For the concert, he brought his wife and two children—but not the family dog. She is too big, he said, though she does howl along with him sometimes as he rehearses.

“At first I thought she was not happy about what I sing, and then I realized she was modulating,” he said.

Ron Jarrett, president of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, speaks at a press conference about the upcoming Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square Christmas concert at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, December 7, 2016.

Rolando Villazón speaks during a press conference about the upcoming Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square Christmas concert at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, December 7, 2016. Villazón is the featured guest artist and narrator for the 2016 Christmas concert. Photo by Laura Seitz, Deseret News.

Ron Jarrett, president of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir; Rolando Villazón; and Mormon Tabernacle Choir music director Mack Wilberg speak during a press conference about the upcoming Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square Christmas concert at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, December 7, 2016. Villazón is the featured guest artist and narrator for the 2016 Christmas concert. Photo by Laura Seitz, Deseret News.