Rising star tenor continues ascent
Life's a melody for UTSA singing sensation Rafael Moras. The tenor and vocal performance major's latest venture was participating this summer in the world-renowned Wolf Trap Summer Opera program in Vienna, Va. Earlier this year he was the only undergraduate and the youngest of 26 semifinalists in a New York Metropolitan Opera audition.
"Even though I didn't advance, it was such a tremendous learning experience," Moras said. "It left me with a clear understanding of how much I need to work."
But his résumé attests to just how far he's already come. He has four major opera roles to his credit, including one in Washington, D.C. He's been honored by the Artist Foundation of San Antonio, won the George Cortés Award and garnered first place in the Tuesday Musical Club Texas Young Artists Competition. In 2006 he was named a National Finalist in Classical Voice for the National Foundation for the Advancement of the Arts (NFAA).
None of this seemed remotely possible when Moras was born. He had a condition called hydrocephalus, or an abnormal accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid, building up pressure in his skull. His parents were initially told he would be a quadriplegic and blind.
But modern medicine and the skills of doctors allowed him to escape the dire prognosis, and Moras resolved to use the talents he'd been given. It helped that he grew up in an artistic household where his mother painted and his father played the piano and classical accordion. He often watched zarzuelas (Spanish operas) with his father.
"How I was born is a big part of my motivation, and classical music was always part of my life," Moras recalled. "I'd be running around and my dad would say, 'Come see this amazing scene from this zarzuela!' His love of it was infectious. Placido Domingo has been my hero since I was tiny."
Incredibly, the NFAA's YoungArts program enabled him to take two master classes with the maestro himself. The classes were featured in an episode of the HBO documentary series Masterclass, which aired in April and was directed and produced by an Emmy award-winning team.
With ancestors from Spain and Mexico, Moras feels strong ties to Domingo, who was born in Spain and raised in Mexico. "He's a tremendous role model in his humility and his grace in dealing with people," Moras said. "When I saw footage from the first master class, there were parts where Maestro Domingo was explaining something and I was just standing there with my mouth open. Maybe that's why I felt dry," he said, laughing.
At a master class with the National Opera Association, he introduced himself to famous soprano Marilyn Horne, who promptly requested a song and a kiss.
Rejecting his polite kiss on the cheek, she insisted, "No, a real kiss—a tenor kiss," for which she was granted a peck and a serenade.
When Moras finished the piece, renowned tenor George Shirley declared, "Young man, you've got a career ahead of you."
Moras said he's grateful to be in an environment at UTSA where camaraderie is palpable, no one is just a number and everyone is pushed to grow. And he feels fortunate to be the recipient of a music scholarship made possible by a gift from Charles and Charlotte Walker.
He regards the faculty and staff of the UTSA music department as family.
"The decision to work with Dr. Diana Allan was critical," he said. "The chance to take part in lyric theatre as an undergraduate was also extremely important. Every experience on my résumé was an opportunity to explore something new, in an environment both challenging and nurturing."
Amazed to see the program's growth in his few years here, he's excited about its future, as well as his own.
After graduating next year, he plans to attend graduate school at Rice University.