Opera dream close to reality for Mattawa native

By Dori O'Neal, Tri-City HeraldNovember 14, 2013 

Jose Iniguez said he was as normal a kid as any -- with one exception.

"While all my friends, brothers and sisters watched cartoons, I watched PBS. It's where I was introduced to opera music and I loved it," said the son of a Mattawa orchard foreman, who grew up in a family of 11 children.

"I started dreaming of singing for a professional opera company when I was 13 years old," he said.

More than 20 years later, Iniguez is closer than ever to making his dream a reality.

He recently returned from a European tour where he performed in various cities, including Vienna and Budapest. And he plans to release a CD in 2015.

The tenor makes his first Tri-City appearance Saturday at the Tagaris Winery in Richland. Showtime is 5:30 p.m. Admission is free. All ages are welcome.

Iniguez's journey to the stage hasn't been a direct one.

After graduating from Mattawa High School, he studied music at Central Washington University with Professor Sidney Knellelroad, then diverted after a couple years to business school.

"I went to college in Phoenix and earned that business degree to please my father," he said. "But music is really who I am. And after this European tour I knew I wanted to pursue an opera career even though my parents might think it's not a very practical decision."

He recalled a football game in high school when he scored three touchdowns and was flying high, but his dad still made him get up at dawn the next morning and work in the orchard.

"Dad never came to any of our sporting events because to him sports was not important, and for a while when I was younger, I was resentful of him for that," said Iniguez. "My father worked hard his whole life and made sure we all earned college degrees. He just saw no practical use for music as a career."

But Iniguez got plenty of encouragement from others.

"My siblings are my biggest support group. They helped me believe in my dreams," he said. "And despite my dad's tough parenting I value the lessons he taught me."

His parents, Santiago Iniguez and Guadalupe Rodriguez, have since divorced but still live in Mattawa.

After business school, Iniguez held many jobs but music kept pulling at him. He returned to the Northwest and eventually began studying with retired opera singer Jerry Halsey in Seattle.

Halsey, who sang with the Munich Opera for many years, said Iniguez's powerful vocal range is rare.

"Jose has a glorious voice, a Class A voice to be exact, and he's a quick study," Halsey said. "And he has the chutzpah and PR skills to take his talent far."

Iniguez's work paid off, and he has new bookings next summer in Europe. He hopes that will help catch the attention of some opera companies.

Richland opera lover and retired school teacher Laurel Piippo sings the praises of Iniguez's musical talent, which includes transcribing Mariachi Mexican folk music for classical piano.

"At Saturday night's performance, we'll hear some of that too," Piippo said.

He will be accompanied on piano by Tri-City musician Emily Cowgill.

Iniguez, 35, admits he's getting started on his professional singing career a little later in life than most.

"I wasn't ready to until now to emotionally pursue a career in opera," he said. "I didn't have the confidence I needed before.

"But after this latest European tour ... when I saw people in the audience crying when I sang, even men. One man came up to me after one of the concerts and told me I must keep singing. You hear that and it gives you the confidence to go forth, and I now know I was born to do this."

w Dori O'Neal: 582-1514; doneal@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @dorioneal

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