Arizona Opera’s new recital series begins next week and features the star of this weekend’s “HMS Pinafore.”

The inaugural VoiceLab recital features tenor David Portillo performing an all-Spanish language concert with pianist Allen Perriello. The performance, at 7:30 p.m. Saturday  at DesertView Performing Arts Center in SaddleBrooke, is meant to highlight opera singers doing what is at the core of opera: singing and telling stories.

“Normally we tell really compelling stories, two to three hours long,” said Arizona Opera General Director Ryan Taylor. “But there also are really great stories that are four minutes long.”

Taylor said last season VoiceLab was part of Arizona Opera’s recital series with the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix.

Last summer, opera officials started talking about expanding the series and giving the vocalists, stars of the company’s productions, the chance to create their own programs.

“What VoiceLab gives a couple of our singers the opportunity to do is program something entirely on their own,” Taylor  said, noting that their programs often draw from the opera repertoire .

“It will be interesting to see where these individual artists’ passions lie and what stories they want to tell,” he said. “I think it’s a huge pop for us to get into the guts of what makes opera opera.”

Portillo has the role of Ralph Rackstraw in the company’s performance this weekend of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “HMS Pinafore,” a story of culture clash and love on the high seas. The final performance is at 2 p.m. today at Tucson Music Hall.

Portillo, a native of Texas, is a graduate of the prestigious Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Merola Opera Program at San Francisco Opera and Washington, D.C.’s Wolf Trap Opera.

In the span of a few short years, Portillo has proved to be a critical darling. Opera News said he hit the “high notes with ease, singing with a luxuriant warm glow that seduced the ear as he bounded about the stage with abandon.” The San Francisco Chronicle, reviewing a 2012 performance of Gluck’s “Armide,” said Portillo “displayed such a sweet, free-and-easy light tenor sound that one wished Gluck had given him more to sing.”

Taylor described Portillo as “a hot commodity tenor” who is “hands-down the best Mozart tenor out there right now.”

“The voice is just amazing,” Taylor said.

On Jan. 30, Arizona Opera will host its second Tucson VoiceLab recital at DesertView with soprano Corinne Winters and tenor Zach Borichevsky, stars of the company’s production of Puccini’s “La Boheme” Feb. 1 and 2.

“We wanted to take some risks in presenting some things,” said Taylor, who took over Arizona Opera’s top job last spring.

I cover music for the Arizona Daily Star.