Jesus Daniel Hernandez’ sensational tenor voice has a clarion purity that could fill a cavernous auditorium and scenic designer Osbel Susman-Pena reinforces that impression by giving him a setting at Source reminiscent of a Greek arena, with raked, semi-circular seating.
With musical direction by accompanist Mari Paz, who plays piano with expressive flourish; well-modulated percussion and guitar backup by musician/ actor Monalisa Arias; and staging by GALA Artistic Director Abel Lopez, the focus is on Hernandez’s great talent that knows no borders or boundaries. Every lyric in this recital of 17 love-songs from the 1930s to 50s feels as if it comes from a deep, personal connection. His vocal range is solid, secure. And Hernandez can enflame your heart and touch the depths of your soul. His first number “Como Fue (How Did It Happen?)”, for instance, could be an interview question about his own life.
The program notes tell us that when Hernandez was a teenager, still dreaming of becoming an opera singer like the great tenor Placido Domingo, his family immigrated from Juarez, Mexico. Largely self-taught by singing along with recordings, Hernandez served one tour of duty in Iraq with the U.S. Army. But the military was not his destiny. After attending a Domingo concert in San Antonio, Texas, Hernandez, who didn’t know how to read music, courageously thrust himself before the maestro and asked for an audition. The “singing soldier,” a nickname from his army pals, was accepted into the Washington National Opera’s Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program.
Hernandez’s command of vocal dynamics, and breath control is impressive. He knows how to project a song so you feel it, and needs no microphone to do it. And Hernandez ecstatically delivers a gracious, thoroughly engaging, straight-from-the-heart, fully enjoyable, tour-de-force performance.
Most of all, this budding artist reminds us of what is distinctly Latino. Only in Latin America do males suffer so much pain for love, as exemplified in “Cucurrucucu, Paloma (The Dove),” by Tomas Mendez (from Mexico). In one delightfully playful moment during this piece, Hernandez, ever the ideal gentleman in black tux and red tie, serenades and flirts with an audience member sitting at one of the café tables.
For some old-time favorites, Hernandez pegs back the dynamics for sensitive interpretations. In “Dos Gardenias (Two Gardenias),” by Isolina Carrillo (from Cuba), which Hernandez delivers with nuanced shading, the two flowers represent the life and pain of love. In “Solamente Una Vez (Only Once)” by Agustin Lara (Mexico), the crooner in him captures the fluttery, shaky sweetness that comes with first-time infatuation. And in the famous tango song by Carlos Gardel (from Argentina), “El dia que me quieras (The Day You Love Me),” Hernandez’ voice becomes vibrant with tenderness and you can’t help but go along and fall in love all over again.
Throughout the program, actress Monalisa Arias strolls in with occasional guitar strumming or a gentle percussive accent from a drum set. The poems, by Latina poets, selected by director Lopez, are given insightful, impassioned readings by Arias. These poems by poets ranging from the 17th century poet, Sor Juana Ines De La Cruz, to the modern metaphysical Chilean poet, Gabriela Mistral, add an aura of mystery. For example, one of Mistral’s poems, as read by Arias, “Song Of Those Who Seek To Forget (Cancion de los que quieren olvidar),” comes across as a haunting prayer to the sea, asking for forgetfulness.
The many highpoints build to a stunning climax of unexpected intensity with three well-known favorites. Hernandez, who after intermission sheds his formality, enters in unbuttoned casual attire and brings a wonderful carefree panache as the lover who begs the clock to stop ticking toward morning, the time his beloved will leave him, in “El Reloj (The Clock)” by Roberto Cantoral (from Mexico).
But what’s truly amazing and makes this show worth experiencing is how Hernandez doesn’t need all the strobe lights, high-tech amplification and hype that rock stars are given. He just is as he is. When he lets out all the stops of his naturally big, glorious tenor voice, ”bravos!” erupt from the audience. And that’s exactly what happened on opening night with “Preciosa, (Beautiful One)”, the rousing bolero by Rafael Hernandez (not related to the singer) from Puerto Rico, that celebrates the fusion of borinquen’s indigenous American Indian cultures with European Spanish and African traditions, the multiple-personality of Latin America.
And when Hernandez sings “I love, I cry, I dream..” from the beautifully exalting “Alma Llanera (Soul Of The Plains)”, he ends his recital by emphasizing the word “Dream.” This song by Pedro Elias Gutierrez, has deep personal meaning for rising opera star Jesus Daniel Hernandez. He is the embodiment of the American artist’s Dream.
English Supertitles are projected on an overhead center stage screen.
de mi corazon latino: From My Latin Heart
A Recital Performance introducing Mexican tenor Jesus Daniel Hernandez
Assisted by Monalisa Arias, musician (guitar and percussion) and actor
Directed by music director and pianist Mari Paz
Directed by Abel Lopez
Produced by The In Series
Reviewed by Rosalind Lacy
Highly Recommended .
Running Time: 1 hour and 15 minutes (75 minutes total) with one intermission.