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From the Police Beat to the Tempo of Opera


March 9, 2003
Copyright © 2003
THE NEW YORK TIMES. All rights reserved. 

THE rich tenor voice of Daniel Rodriguez filled the 1,800-square-foot atrium at the Holiday Inn Select in Stamford during a preview last month for a performance at the Palace Theater.

As he hit a high C with strength, clarity and seeming ease, the New York City police officer demonstrated some of the skills he has gained over his past year of study with Placido Domingo at the Washington Opera's Young Artists Program.

''He has one of the most exciting voices on the opera horizon,'' said Laurence Gilgore, general conductor of the Connecticut Grand Opera and Orchestra. ''He has one of the most open, ringing high C's of any tenor singing today.''

Mr. Rodriguez, who will perform Saturday at the Palace Theater, gained national attention by singing the national anthem and ''God Bless America'' at numerous memorials, funerals and sporting events after the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Since then, he has performed at hundreds of sites, including symphony halls, baseball stadiums and rodeos. But his debut performance with an opera company will take place in front of a Connecticut audience, when he joins fellow Latino singers to perform ''An Evening of Tango and Zarzuela'' with the Connecticut Grand Opera. Also featured will be David Robinson, a tenor from Mexico; Ivan Crespo, a baritone from Puerto Rico and Anna Tonna, a mezzo soprano from the United States.

Like many off-duty officers on Sept. 11, 2001, Mr. Rodriguez headed to the disaster as soon as the first plane hit the north tower. As he neared the trade center, he decided to check in with his superior officer.

''I made a left instead of a right to check in with my bosses and it probably saved my life,'' said Mr. Rodriguez, who still finds it difficult to talk about his experiences that day. ''Every horror you've read about I saw. I was two blocks away when the buildings started to collapse. Me and my C.O. just started pulling people out of cars. The first call to sing was about three weeks later.''

Mr. Rodriguez began studying voice when he was 12 and had his debut at Carnegie Hall at age 17, but family responsibilities soon sidetracked his aspirations for a professional singing career. Even without training, his voice was good enough to win him a spot singing the national anthem at the Yankees-Mets Subway Series in 2000. But after the attack on the World Trade Center, it was his moving performances of ''God Bless America'' at memorials and funerals, including those of close friends and colleagues, that gained him large-scale national attention.

Mr. Gilgore was among those who first heard Mr. Rodriguez sing in the weeks following 9/11. After hearing three bars, he recalled saying, '''My God, what a voice,'''adding, ''And people like Placido Domingo agreed with me.''

''He's the tenor that a lot of people in the world have been waiting for as the careers of Pavarotti, Carreras and Domingo are winding down,'' Mr. Gilgore said.

Mr. Rodriguez's debut CD, ''The Spirit of America,'' hit No. 1 on the Crossover Classical Chart last year and sales from the single ''God Bless America'' raised more than $250,000 for the Twin Towers Relief Fund. His second CD, ''From My Heart,'' made its debut at No. 6 on the same chart when it was released last month.

His current leave of absence from the New York Police Department, granted for educational purposes, ends May 24, which is his 39th birthday. But it doesn't appear that Mr. Rodriguez will be back on the beat any time soon. He will probably ask to renew the leave for a year and if his request isn't granted, he said he is likely to retire from the force. He has 35 appearances planned in the coming year, Mr. Domingo has asked him to study and audition for the part of Alfredo in ''La Traviata'' in a Washington Opera production, and there is even talk of him starring in a film about Mario Lanzo.

Under Mr. Gilgore, the Connecticut Grand Opera has defined itself by featuring both young artists who are on the way up and established artists singing unusual repertoire. In performing the little-known forms of tango and zarzuela, in both song and dance, Mr. Gilgore said he wanted to expose his core audience to new forms and to attract new audience members from Connecticut's growing Spanish-speaking population. ''I hope to hear a lot of Spanish spoken in the lobby during intermission,'' he said.

Mr. Gilgore first conducted tango two years ago with the Prague Opera. ''I became familiar with a body of work that I thought I simply had to share with my audience here in Connecticut,'' Mr. Gilgore said. ''Tango is deeply sexy, sultry, mournful and immensely expressive, which a lot of opera is too.''

Zarzuela dates to 15th-century Spain. Its golden era was in the late 1800's. Recently, Mr. Domingo has championed zarzuela to modern audiences, but the Connecticut Grand Opera is ahead of the curve in offering the form, Mr. Gilgore said.

''A more conservative programmer might have waited another five or six years,'' he said.

Tickets for ''An Evening of Tango and Zarzuela'' on Saturday start at $27 and are available by calling (203)325-4466 or (203)359-0009. A benefit ''Tango and Tapas'' party will follow the performance; tickets start at $150.

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