While many Mountaineers were focused on the hardwoods of the basketball court, another West Virginia University superstar was striding onto the boards of the international opera stage.
Tenor James Valenti, graduate of the WVU College of Creative Arts, made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City’s Lincoln Center on March 29, receiving exceptional reviews as Alfredo in Verdi’s “La Traviata.”
The New York Times said, “The young American tenor James Valenti had a solid success in his Met debut as Alfredo. He is tall, over 6 feet 5 inches, handsome and physically agile: qualities reflected in his virile and attractive singing. He won a rousing ovation.”
The New York Post followed, noting, “The 32-year-old New Jersey native’s first Met performance was more than promising. Valenti revealed a sweet, even lyric tenor, an aristocratic way with a vocal line and easy confidence. It seems downright unfair that he also boasts the smoldering good looks of a male model.”
This achievement is a great personal and professional success for Valenti, who returned to the Metropolitan stage just eight years after winning the prestigious Metropolitan Opera National Council Audition Grand Finals, where many of today’s opera luminaries have been discovered as promising young artists.
“I have worked very hard, for many years, to get to the Met. It is one of the greatest theaters, if not the greatest, in the world,” Valenti said.
“Working here, and having success here, is something I’ve dreamed about since I began my career. Having this triumph in a leading role and working with a superstar cast – colleagues that I idolize – and being on the same level with them is a bit surreal. It’s also been a pleasure to share this with so many of my family and friends. I’m still floating on a cloud of ecstasy from the experience.”
Valenti’s Metropolitan Opera debut is a culmination of a decade of successful and award-winning work, most recently being named the 2009 Dallas Opera Maria Callas Debut Artist of the Year.
Throughout this period of professional triumph, Valenti has maintained a strong connection with WVU, returning in 2007 to take part in former President David C. Hardesty’s farewell event.
“James sang ‘Time to Say Goodbye’ – originally popularized by opera star Andrea Bocelli – when I stepped down as WVU president, and he remains very special to my wife Susan and me,” said Hardesty.
“His debut at the Metropolitan Opera is one of the more significant accomplishments by a graduate of the WVU music program in my memory.”
Valenti came to WVU to study with former music professor and artist-in-residence, Augusto Paglialunga, who was one of the first to notice the young singer’s raw talent and potential to be nurtured into something great.
“Six to eight weeks after starting lessons, I heard a beautiful timbre in James’ voice that I knew was going to grow into an amazingly wonderful instrument,” said Paglialunga.
“He also had rock star good looks and a natural, believable stage presence and movement – he really connected with his partners, something great opera singers sometimes lack.”
Valenti experienced exceptional growth physically, artistically and culturally while at WVU, going from a fresh-faced 18-year-old attending his first opera in Pittsburgh on a resident faculty leader cultural trip to auditioning for national opera apprenticeships upon graduation.
Valenti subsequently began his career with the Minnesota Opera and went on to further study with William Shuman at the distinguished Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia.
“He is the most talented artist I’ve ever trained,” Paglialunga said. “He has one of the best tenor voices in the operatic world today. Being an excellent student of his art, James will have a major career, along the lines of Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and Franco Corelli. He’s going to be one of the greats.”
Valenti has become a renowned international musician, performing at the Teatro alla Scala Milan, Teatro Verdi Trieste, Semperoper Dresden, Teatro dell’Opera Rome, Teatro Carlo Felice Genova; with the New York City Opera (in an Emmy award-winning PBS telecast), San Francisco Opera, Florida Grand Opera, Op�ra de Marseille, Michigan Opera Theater, Palm Beach Opera; in concert with the Minnesota Orchestra and Chicago Symphony; and on numerous national television programs, including A&E’s Breakfast with the Arts.
“The teacher-student relationship between Professor Paglialunga and James was an exceptional one,” said Dean Bernie Schultz of WVU’s College of Creative Arts. “Not only is James an extraordinarily gifted singer, he is also a very fine, courteous, and responsible young person. We are very proud of James in many ways.”
Valenti credits the University and the people he met here with much of his success.
“Paglialunga was a strong influence on me and recognized my talent from an early age,” said Valenti. “He is retired now, but remains a mentor.”
“President Hardesty and his wife Susan continue to support me as well, for which I am grateful. They were in attendance for my Met debut, and it meant so much to me to have them there,” he added.
David and Susan Hardesty, in turn, welcomed the chance to be part of such a meaningful achievement.
“David and I were there as James stepped onto the Metropolitan stage as Alfredo, and we were beaming with pride when he received thunderous applause and resounding bravos. His family and friends were there as well, and the smiles on the faces of his mother and father were worth the trip,” said Susan Hardesty, remarking on Valenti’s thrilling debut.
“James is living his dream of performing in a leading role at the Metropolitan Opera, and is widely recognized as an outstanding tenor on the world stage. He has had leading roles at opera houses on several continents. His career is an example of what students educated at West Virginia University can achieve,” she added.
In the upcoming months, Valenti will be performing “Madama Butterfly” in Vancouver and making his debut at the Royal Opera House in London’s Covent Garden. A tour of Japan with the Royal Opera will follow, with his debut at the Paris Opera Bastille capping a hugely successful year for the young tenor.
Looking forward, Valenti would like to bring opera to a wider audience and break down stereotypes through his own recordings and participation in the Metropolitan Opera’s HD broadcasts.
“I’m honored to be considered one of the rising stars of my generation and I look forward to pioneering a new era of opera, where opera singers not only sing, but act and bring a whole package of entertainment to the stage,” he said.
Valenti, a native of Clinton, New Jersey, earned a bachelor’s degree in music from WVU in 2000.
To learn more, log on to http://www.jamesvalenti.com.
By Liz Dickinson
WVU News & Information Services
CONTACT: WVU News & Information Services
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