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Life & Work with Rafael Moras

Today we’d like to introduce you to Rafael Moras.

Alright, so thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?
Hi! My name is Rafael Moras and I am a professional opera singer based in Houston, originally from San Antonio, Texas. My career as a tenor has given me the opportunity to work with giants of the musical world such as Grammy Award-winning jazz trumpeter Chris Botti, opera legend Plácido Domingo, and prolific conductor Gustavo Dudamel. My first exposure to music came through my parents, who exposed my siblings and I to opera and zarzuela (the Spanish operetta or musical theater of Spain) from a very young age.

My parents never pressured me into a music career, but their love for that music (along with legendary Mexican composers like María Grever and Agustín Lara) left a big impression on me. My mother would listen to opera as she painted (she is an award-winning painter with an international career), and my father (a professor of Industrial Engineering) would play overtures and melodies from zarzuelas on the piano and accordion. These experiences inspired me to my sign up for middle school choir, and it wasn’t long before choir became the center of my life as a student, all the way through high school.

I was blessed with really wonderful teachers and placed first chair in the Texas All-State choir four years in a row before, singing Tony in my high school’s production of West Side Story my senior year. Those two experiences and the immense amount of work they entailed really solidified in me what had by then become a really deep love of singing. Being chosen a National Winner and United States Presidential Scholar in the Arts in Classical Voice for the YoungArts organization (which led to my meeting Maestro Plácido Domingo for the first time) finally convinced me to pursue a career in music.

I began undergraduate studies at the University of Texas at San Antonio, where I was fortunate to advance to the Semi-Finals of the Metropolitan Opera of New York’s National Council Auditions (now known as the Metropolitan Opera Eric and Dominique Laffont Competition), a major, nationwide competition for young opera singers. As a Semi-Finalist, I sang on the Met stage for my first time; that experienced opened the door to my being accepted into Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music here in Houston.

At Rice, I met and trained with the mentor I still study voice under to this day: Dr. Stephen King. Under Dr. King’s guidance I competed in the Met’s National Council Auditions a second time, and this time I made it all the way to the Grand Finals and sang on the Met Stage with the Met Orchestra. This opened the door to an invitation from Maestro Domingo to join the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program at LA Opera, and it was near the end of two wonderful years there that I started my career as a freelance operatic tenor in earnest, going on my first tour with Chris Botti shortly thereafter.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
I feel deeply fortunate to be able to do what I love for a living, but I also believe I wouldn’t have been able to reach this point without the many challenges and setbacks along the way. This isn’t specific to singing or even art, but I feel you have the choice to either be crushed by challenges and freeze, or learn from them and come back better and wiser. For every memorable performance I’ve had, there are any number of been disappointments or rejections that didn’t go so well. One of my great heroes, Brian Michael Bendis (multi-award-winning writer, comics creator, artist, and co-creator of Miles Morales, Jessica Jones, Powers, Naomi, and many others) once said that he learned more from his mistakes than from his successes, and that’s a mindset I’ve really tried to cultivate in my career as a singer.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
I’m an opera singer (a tenor, specifically), and I’m grateful to say my work takes me all over the world, performing with a variety of companies and artists in different shows and productions (not all of which are opera). At the moment, I’m just a few weeks out from heading to Minneapolis for my debut as Don José (Red Cast) in Bizet’s “Carmen” with Minnesota Opera, a role I’ve been looking forward to singing my entire life, and this summer I’ll be a featured artist in Austin Opera’s brand-new “Concerts at the Consulate” series. I’m also looking forward to going on tour with Chris Botti again in the coming months, and in 2023, I’ll be making my Seattle Opera debut in the world premiere “A Thousand Splendid Suns,” based on best-selling author and humanitarian Khaled Hosseini’s novel of the same name. Then in fall and spring of 2022 and 2023, I’m returning to our own Houston Grand Opera in two amazing productions: “El Milagro del Recuerdo,” a beautiful show I was fortunate enough to be part of the world premiere of here in 2019, and “Salome,” another powerful show unlike anything I’ve ever sung before that I’m excited to dive into for the first time.

I wanted to mention that, in addition to these exciting new projects, one of my favorite things in the world, besides singing for an audience and collaborating with my friends, is specifically doing so while talking with the audience between songs in a performance. My father plays the piano and accordion, and that approach is something I cultivated early on singing with him in charity recitals he and I would give in his native Córdoba, Veracruz. We would forego traditional program notes or pamphlets and would instead just have a conversation with the people in the theater, telling stories and having a good time with them between songs. Those performances really shaped me and I wouldn’t be a singer without them. This is also an approach I have learned a lot about firsthand watching the wonderful way Chris Botti interacts with audiences.

The way I see it, whether it’s opera, a concert, or something else, the end goal always remains the same: sharing music and having a good time with my friends who are part of the show with me, but also with my friends who are in the audience.
Specifically career-wise, some of the recognition I have received includes being named a United States Presidential Scholar in the Arts, a YoungArts National Talent Search and Competition Silver Medal winner, alumnus of LA Opera’s Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program, Two-Year Santa Fe Opera Apprentice, 2019 Dallas Opera Guild Vocal Competition semifinalist, 2017 and 2018 recipient of The Santa Fe Opera’s Richard Tucker Fund Award, 2014 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions (now known as the Metropolitan Opera Eric and Dominique Laffont Competition) Grand Finalist, 2014 Operalia quarterfinalist, and a 2013 and 2014 finalist in Houston Grand Opera’s Eleanor McCollum Competition. When I was just out of high school, I was a featured singer in the documentary “HBO Masterclass with Plácido Domingo”. More recently, I have been exposed to new audiences around the world as a tenor soloist in the aforementioned Grammy Award-winning jazz trumpeter Chris Botti’s worldwide “Never-ending Tour.”

We’d love to hear about how you think about risk taking?
Growing up, my mother would always tell me, “Nothing great ever happens in your comfort zone.” I saw that philosophy alive in her career as a painter as well as in my father’s as a professor. Looking back, I see it reflected most strongly in my parents’ mutual decision to leave their home in Mexico and build a life in the U.S. The idea of deliberately stepping outside my comfort zone, then, is something I think about every time I step on stage or into rehearsal. There’s always a chance some aspect of the performance may not go as planned (for better and for worse!), but the way I see it, that’s part of the joy to be found in what I do as a singer, and I have no choice but to step out, with joy and gratitude, and give the audience all I have.

Sometimes, spur-of-the-moment “risks” make performances the most memorable! This is going way back, but I remember being in high school and deciding, in the moment, to go for the optional high note in “Maria” as Tony in West Side Story. At the time, I’d practiced the note in private and had even talked about it with our conductor, but I’d never sung a note that high in public. I was really nervous, but when I finally sang it, it ended up going very well, and it solidified in me the idea that I would never improve if I wasn’t willing to take risks. Likewise, I never dreamed I would leave Texas to live in LA for a time or be a person who is able to live out of a suitcase at certain times of the year. But I feel really fortunate to make a living doing what I love, and so I feel I owe it to the audience and to the friends I collaborate with to embrace that sense of adventure and step outside my comfort zone any chance I get.

Contact Info:

  • Website: www.rafaelmorastenor.com
  • Instagram: @rafaelmorastenor
  • Facebook: @rafaelmorastenor
  • Youtube: @rafaelmorastenor


Image Credits

Dana Sohm Photography
Lynn Lane Photography
Bobby Gutierrez Photography
Chris Gillett Photography

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