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Jonathan Tetelman recalls his journey from a nightclub DJ to an international opera star

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Jonathan Tetelman recalls his journey from a nightclub DJ to an international opera star
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Jonathan Tetelman recalls his journey from a nightclub DJ to an international opera star

2024-04-20 05:40 Last Updated At:05:51

NEW YORK (AP) — Jonathan Tetelman transformed from a nightclub DJ to an international opera star, a music detour that was quite, well, operatic.

He stopped singing in 2011 and mixed music for New York's clubbers at Webster Hall, Pacha, Greenhouse and W.i.P. These days, the 35-year-old’s gigs are at posher places such as London’s Royal Opera House and the Salzburg Festival.

His career revived by a transition to tenor from baritone, Tetelman will be featured as Ruggero in a Metropolitan Opera performance of Puccini’s “La Rondine (The Swallow)” with soprano Angel Blue, televised live to theaters worldwide Saturday. Starting April 26, he sings Pinkerton in “Madama Butterfly” opposite soprano Asmik Grigorian in her Met debut.

“I kept saying to people, ‘You know, I’m a DJ, but I’m actually an opera singer.' And the more I said it, the more I was like: ’Am I really an opera singer?'” Tetelman recalled of his singing sabbatical.

So he gave himself six months.

“I just sold everything. I sold all my equipment. All my speakers, all my turntables — everything — and just focused,” he said.

Born in Chile, Tetelman was adopted at about 7 months and grew up in Hopewell Township, New Jersey. He got a degree from the Manhattan School of Music in 2011 and considered himself a baritone.

Tetelman moved on to the Mannes School of Music for a graduate program where he was told his upper register was his future but struggled with even audition standards. Overcome with frustration, he headed to the downtown nightlife scene in 2013.

“It just wasn’t — it wasn’t clicking. I threw it all away,” he said.

After concluding that club life wasn’t a future, Tetelman began listening to recordings of Luciano Pavarotti, Enrico Caruso, Franco Corelli and Jonas Kaufmann to understand how they used their voices. Working with Mark Schnaible and Patricia McCaffrey, a husband-and-wife vocal coach team, he began building his tenor technique in 2015.

“This young man is wildly talented,” Schnaible said.

By his mid-20s, Tetelman thought himself too old for professional training programs, so he found an agent. He sang Eisenstein in Johann Strauss II’s “Die Fledermaus (The Bat)” at the Martina Arroyo Foundation’s young artists program in 2016. He then paid a few hundred dollars to attend an open call casting audition. That led to the role of Rodolfo in Puccini’s “La Bohème” at the Fujian Grand Theatre in China in 2017.

He was hired for “Bohème” in November 2018 at the English National Opera, where all performances are in English.

Tetelman prepared by singing in “La Boheme Warhola” — an adaptation of the classic that shifts to Andy Warhol’s The Factory studio — with Pittsburgh Festival Opera at the Falk Auditorium, a 360-seat school theater. Around the same time, agent Alan Green arranged for Tetelman to take over Rodolfo for a concert performance at the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Tanglewood Festival after Piotr Beczała withdrew to replace Roberto Alagna at the Bayreuth Festival’s “Lohengrin.”

That raised Tetelman’s profile before he headed to the London Coliseum for the revival of Jonathan Miller’s 2009 staging, a key accelerant of his career.

"The production and the theater are wonderful. ‘La Bohème’ in English is disgusting,” Tetelman recalled vividly.

A dashing 6-foot-4 with dark hair and a wide smile, he became an in-demand singer for Puccini.

“He has a very solid top. When he sings soft, which I always encourage, especially in the very intimate moments, there’s a tenderness,” conductor Speranza Scappucci said.

On the night of Tetelman’s Met debut on March 26, an audience member tossed a bouquet he caught on the fly.

"He’s certainly a very, very charismatic presence and the audiences are responding,” Met general manager Peter Gelb said.

Tetelman made his Salzburg Festival debut last summer in Krzysztof Warlikowski’s “Macbeth.” The staging opened in an obstetrician’s office with children wearing black and yellow patches warning of radiation.

“You had to be on like mushrooms or something to really understand it,” Tetelman said, quickly adding, “It was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had. ... I think working with him was actually a really inspiring moment for me.”

Future roles include Turiddu in Mascagni’s “Cavalleria Rusticana” and a title role in Saint-Saëns’ “Samson et Dalila” along with the heavier Puccini parts of Dick Johnson in “La Fanciulla del West (Girl of the Golden West)” and des Grieux in “Manon Lescaut.” He’d like to take on Strauss’ Apollo in “Daphne” and Bacchus in “Ariadne auf Naxos" one day.

“I’m trying to book actually less and less Puccini just because I’ve booked so much,” Tetelman said.

In this image provided by the Met Opera, Jonathan Tetelman portrays Ruggero in Puccini's "La Rondine." Tetelman has transformed from nightclub DJ to international opera star. (Karen Almond/Met Opera via AP)

In this image provided by the Met Opera, Jonathan Tetelman portrays Ruggero in Puccini's "La Rondine." Tetelman has transformed from nightclub DJ to international opera star. (Karen Almond/Met Opera via AP)

In this image provided by the Met Opera, Jonathan Tetelman portrays Ruggero in Puccini's "La Rondine." Tetelman has transformed from nightclub DJ to international opera star. (Karen Almond/Met Opera via AP)

In this image provided by the Met Opera, Jonathan Tetelman portrays Ruggero in Puccini's "La Rondine." Tetelman has transformed from nightclub DJ to international opera star. (Karen Almond/Met Opera via AP)

Next Article

Fani Willis and judge presiding over Georgia Trump election case defeat challengers

2024-05-22 10:09 Last Updated At:10:10

ATLANTA (AP) — Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, the Georgia prosecutor who brought a sprawling racketeering case against former President Donald Trump and others, has won the Democratic primary in her bid for reelection.

Willis defeated progressive attorney Christian Wise Smith in the primary election and is now set to face off against Republican Courtney Kramer in the fall. Willis told reporters after her victory that the voters sent a message that “people want a DA that is just, that treats everybody equally and that works hard, and they know that they have that in me.”

Meanwhile, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee, the judge who was randomly assigned to preside over the election interference case, also fended off a challenger, winning a nonpartisan election to keep his seat.

The Trump election case and racketeering cases against well-known rappers have boosted Willis’ public profile. But on Tuesday night she touted her efforts to fight violent crime by being tough on gang members while also saying she worked to give second chances to first offenders and created programs to catch at-risk youth before they get caught up in the criminal justice system.

“The people said yes to justice. The people said yes to safety. The people said yes to integrity. The people said yes to Fani Willis," Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens said to applause Tuesday night at Willis' victory party.

With her name recognition, the advantages of incumbency and a hefty fundraising haul, Willis’ victory in the primary was not terribly surprising. As she moves on to the general election, the odds would seem to be in her favor as well. Fulton County includes most of the city of Atlanta and is heavily Democratic, about 73% of its voters having cast ballots for President Joe Biden in the 2020 election.

But Willis was taking nothing for granted after her primary win, telling supporters, “The campaign does not end tonight. It begins tonight.”

“My opponent is completely unqualified,” she said, later adding, “But while she is inexperienced and unqualified and does not represent the values of my county, don't get confused. She is a real threat because of who backs her and how they back her.”

Willis urged her supporters to continue to back her financially, noting that there was a store selling campaign merchandise onsite during her victory party.

Kramer, who has ties to some of Trump’s most prominent allies in Georgia and has drawn campaign contributions from both the county and state Republican parties, told reporters when she qualified to run that the Trump indictment prompted her to challenge Willis. In a post on the social media platform X earlier this month, she wrote, “The future of Fulton and safety in our community should not be controlled by self-interested politicians who use their office for political law fare. It’s time for a change.”

McAfee has been on the bench since last year when Republican Gov. Brian Kemp appointed him to fill an empty seat. He has since become one of the most high-profile judges in Georgia since he was randomly assigned last year to preside over the election interference case. With the added advantages of incumbency, strong bipartisan backing from heavy hitters and an impressive fundraising haul, he was the likely favorite to win.

Willis and Smith both worked in the Fulton County district attorney’s office under then-District Attorney Paul Howard. They both challenged their former boss in the Democratic primary in 2020. Willis and Howard advanced to a runoff that she won, and she ran unopposed in the November general election that year.

Kramer ran unopposed in the Republican primary Tuesday and has already been focusing her attention on attacking Willis. A lawyer who interned in the Trump White House, she has ties to some of the former president's prominent allies in Georgia.

Kramer and her backers will undoubtedly continue to focus on what even some of Willis' closest allies have seen as a major misstep — her romantic relationship with a special prosecutor she hired for the election case. Claims by defense attorneys in the case that the romance created a conflict of interest threatened to derail the prosecution.

McAfee ultimately ruled that it did not create a conflict of interest that should disqualify Willis, but he said she could only continue the case if the special prosecutor, Nathan Wade, stepped aside. Wade promptly left the case, but a defense appeal of McAfee's ruling is now pending before the Georgia Court of Appeals.

Wade was among those gathered at an event space in Atlanta's Buckhead neighborhood Tuesday evening to celebrate Willis' win.

Willis obtained an indictment in August against Trump and 18 others, accusing them of participating in an alleged illegal scheme to overturn Trump's narrow loss in the 2020 presidential election in Georgia. Four people have pleaded guilty after reaching deals with prosecutors. Trump and the 14 others who remain have pleaded not guilty.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis speaks after winning re-election in the Democratic primary on Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Buckhead, Ga. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis speaks after winning re-election in the Democratic primary on Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Buckhead, Ga. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis speaks to the media after winning the Democratic primary on Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Buckhead, Ga. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis speaks to the media after winning the Democratic primary on Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Buckhead, Ga. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis speaks after winning re-election in the Democratic primary on Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Buckhead, Ga. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis speaks after winning re-election in the Democratic primary on Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Buckhead, Ga. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis celebrates winning re-election in the primary on Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Buckhead, Ga. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis celebrates winning re-election in the primary on Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Buckhead, Ga. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens takes a photograph with Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis before she speaks and after winning re-election in the primary on Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Buckhead, Ga. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens takes a photograph with Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis before she speaks and after winning re-election in the primary on Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Buckhead, Ga. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis celebrates with supporters after winning re-election in the primary on Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Buckhead, Ga. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis celebrates with supporters after winning re-election in the primary on Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Buckhead, Ga. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis arrives before she speaks after winning re-election in the primary on Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Buckhead, Ga. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis arrives before she speaks after winning re-election in the primary on Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Buckhead, Ga. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis arrives before she speaks after winning re-election in the primary on Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Buckhead, Ga. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis arrives before she speaks after winning re-election in the primary on Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Buckhead, Ga. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

In this photo combination of file images, Fulton County Superior Judge Scott McAfee presides in court, left, while Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, right, looks on during a hearing on the Georgia election interference case, March, 1, 2024, in Atlanta. (AP Photos/Alex Slitz)

In this photo combination of file images, Fulton County Superior Judge Scott McAfee presides in court, left, while Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, right, looks on during a hearing on the Georgia election interference case, March, 1, 2024, in Atlanta. (AP Photos/Alex Slitz)

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