Opera star Marcelo Puente makes ROH debut after 13 years dreaming

David Ellis
Debut: Marcelo Puente performing on the ROH stage: Bill Cooper

An up-and-coming opera star says playing at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden is a long awaited dream come true.

Marcelo Puente, 38, made his debut yesterday as one of opera’s great villains, Pinkerton, in the current production of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly. Puente, an Argentinian who quit medical school after hearing a recording of Pavarotti, told the Standard he had waited almost 14 years to perform on the Covent Garden stage, following a summer spent singing nearby in a local restaurant.

“My sister Veronica was living in Cambridge with her husband and I was in my last year of my opera scholarship in Düsseldorf. I decided to come over to spend some time with her, then to make myself useful, I went to London, and I passed by the Covent Garden theatre.

“I looked at it like a dream, and I saw an Italian restaurant nearby with a sign asking for staff. It was Sicilian, gone now. I got the job, the owner asked me what I was doing here, and I told him I was a singer. He asked if I’d sing in between waiting tables, so I did, all through the summer of 2003. Every day in that summer I’d pass the theatre on my way to work and I’d say to myself ‘one day, when I will be ready, I will sing here’. Now, 13 years have passed, and I’m here.”

Heartbreak waiting to happen: Pinkerton (Marcelo Puente) with CioCio San, known as Madame Butterfly (Ermonela Jaho) (Bill Cooper)

Unsurprisingly, Puente says his history with the iconic London venue means his performances there are particularly significant: “It’s very emotional, I almost cried at the first dress rehearsal because this for me is the horizon point, this is the biggest dream of my career.

“When I was really young I saw all the Argentinian tenors who had sung here and now I’m continuing that tradition. I’m really, really, really happy.”

Commanding presence: Carlo Bosi as Goro, Marcelo Puente as Pinkerton (Bill Cooper)

Puente also revealed he discovered his talent by accident. “I was studying anatomy and to concentrate myself I put the CD of classical music on, and on that CD was Luciano Pavarotti singing. I began, just for fun, to impersonate him, and I realised that I had it naturally, so I began to investigate it… I was 19, 20. I had no idea about it. It was a surprise.

“It was a surprise for everyone. My father told me I had to find a job and pay my own way for lessons. He encouraged me, but told me I had to fight for what I want and find my own way.”

Madame Butterfly, one of the most famous operas of all time, tells the story of an American Lieutenant of the US Navy, Pinkerton, who marries a Japanese girl for convenience, then promptly abandons her, eventually breaking her heart. Though Pinkerton may be seen as one of the cruellest, most heartless characters in the operatic canon, he is often performed somewhat sympathetically as a misguided, naive young man. Puente says he will emphasise this side of the character.

“He is so eager to explore this new adventure. He’s getting used to it, he treats it like a game. The relationship is not serious for him, in the first act. In the third act, he regrets so badly, he’s full of remorse and everything, but in the beginning he is sympathetic because he is very young, and very ambitious, he doesn’t have a consciousness of what he’s doing.”

Madame Butterfly is playing at the Royal Opera House from now until Tuesday April 25. Tickets and information can be found at roh.org.uk