Christ Cathedral will present its Spring Choral Spectacular at Christ Cathedral April 28 at 7:30 p.m. Guest soloist César Antonio Sánchez will sing the beautiful Misa Criolla as one of the featured works of the evening. Misa Criolla, by Ariel Ramirez, written in 1963, is a groundbreaking work written in Spanish, incorporating the native folk rhythms, instruments and traditions of Hispanic America. It has been a favorite at St. Peter’s Basilica for over 50 years and much loved by Pope Francis who is known to give CD’s of Misa Criolla as Christmas presents.
Upon first meeting Mexican opera singer César Antonio Sánchez, several qualities are apparent: his tall 6’2” stature, his modest persona, and a broad, winning smile. After getting to know him, we learned of his amazing musical journey. “Our goal,” says Helena DeCoro, professor of music at Cypress College, “is to highlight that César is a true example of Mexican hard work, love of family and an amazing example of dedication to overcome incredible obstacles to achieve his dream – to be an opera singer. He should be an inspiration to everyone.”
César began his musical study as a boy chorister at the Church of the Sacred Heart in Tijuana, Mexico. One day he saw a TV program featuring tenor Placido Domingo. César was only 11 years old and had never heard of Domingo before, but said the sound of his voice was so thrilling and amazing it changed his life.
In his early teen years, César washed dishes and cleaned his family’s small storefront restaurant in Tijuana. Helping his father work, he soon became an excellent cook. Soon patrons began asking for “the kid” to prepare their orders.
César’s early success in cooking led to hard work in many restaurants the world over, while he pursued an opera career.
“I have never met anyone from such humble surroundings, who has worked so hard to pursue a career. César worked continually in restaurants washing dishes and cooking, fixing cars, painting houses and doing any odd jobs he could find to pay for singing lessons,” says Dr. Thomas Coad, who has served as a mentor to César during his career.
After high school, César won a scholarship to the Escuela Superior de Música Sagrada in Guadalajara, Mexico. This famous liturgical music school left a lasting impression with César of the beautiful music of the Catholic Church.
Still a student in Guadalajara, César entered a singing competition and won first place. The prize money allowed him to buy a round trip ticket to Europe.
He auditioned and was awarded a scholarship to the famous music school, Mozarteum University of Salzburg in Austria. Despite speaking no German when he began, after six months he could converse quite well with students and teachers and was an excellent student.
After completing two years of study, César could not afford to live in Germany any longer. He returned home and after two more years of working and saving in Mexico, he was able to return to Europe. A friend told him about the Darclée International Voice Competition in Bucharest, Romania. Though a far distance from Salzburg, César decided to make the long trip of more than 660 miles and enter. He won the competition, which led to an operatic debut with the National Opera of Romania singing the role of Alfredo in Verdi’s La Traviata. This success led to other major orchestra recitals in both Romania and Germany. The life of an opera singer, building a career, involves constant auditioning and rehearsal. To pay for this, César again returned to restaurant work, this time in Romania. He began sharing his favorite Mexican recipes and cooking skills with a local restaurant, which became a resounding success with customers.
Longing for home, César returned to Tijuana and San Diego where his parents now live as U.S. citizens. He missed being in the kitchen with family preparing traditional holiday meals. In 2012, he won the Irene Dallas Voice Competition in San Jose, California, and was soon hired to sing leading tenor roles with the Los Angeles Opera’s Education & Community Programs. Los Angeles Opera General Director Placido Domingo believes that “sharing the Arts is essential to building the community and vital to a well-rounded education.”
In the summer of 2014, César performed at the outdoor Tijuana Opera Festival to a crowd of 14,000. He sang the demanding role of Prince Calaf in Puccini’s Turandot and received a standing ovation when he finished the famous aria Nessun Dorma.
“While in Orange County, César has been a frequent guest artist for the World Affairs Council. César was bestowed the title ‘Ambassador of the Arts’ by the Mexican Government- an award of which he is very proud”, says Dr. Coad. “He is a gifted linguist and speaks German, Italian, Romanian, English and his native Spanish.”
César says, “Thanks to my singing, I was fortunate to live in many different places and meet people the world over. The Coad family has been wonderful mentors. Their love of beautiful music and support has given me the opportunity to sing multiple times at Christ Cathedral. I will always be grateful to the Coad family and Professor Helena DeCoro for their continued belief in me and strong, positive Catholic faith.”