Homecoming for Eduardo Villa was tough this time around. The tenor, born in East Los Angeles, returned from a busy European schedule to find neighborhoods he knew well going up in smoke in the recent civic cataclysm.
"It's pretty sad. I still have lots of family living in some of those areas, and it's difficult to see."
He takes comfort in the reason for this visit, which is to sing the Verdi Requiem--with its passionate pleas for forgiveness and peace--tonight with the Pasadena Symphony.
"For me, it's going to be a very emotional thing. It's really going to hit home base," Villa says. "It's one of my favorite Verdi 'roles.' Each time it is different, and I never get tired of it."
Which is good, since he has already done six different performances of it in Europe, and will be recording it in Budapest in January.
Villa's opera work blossomed quickly, through competition successes in the early 1980s. In fact, it was only when he became a finalist in the Metropolitan Opera Auditions in 1982 that he really decided to make opera a career.
The tenor came to opera late. He was singing in a synagogue in Santa Barbara and studying musical comedy at Santa Barbara College when he was heard by Natalie Limonick and encouraged to attend USC. At the same time, he was doing stand-up comedy, dancing and studio work, including a Bob's Big Boy commercial.
All of this has helped him on the opera stage, where he relishes action scenes such as the big knife-fight he did as Don Jose for the Houston Grand Opera production of "Carmen."
"I'm very physical in my approach to the drama," Villa says. "It adds to the singing as well," he insists, "forcing me to develop stamina and focus on the character. There are a few old dinosaurs who still just stand there and sing, but I think those days are over for opera."