Scottsdale native Vanessa Vasquez was more giddy than nervous as she prepared to make her Arizona Opera debut last weekend in Phoneix.

She’s Violetta — her debut in the role — in Verdi’s tragic drama “La Traviata,” which opened in Phoenix and comes to Tucson Music Hall this weekend as part of the 2019 Tucson Desert Song Festival.

“I think I honestly have less nerves and more excitement,” the soprano newcomer said, then ticked off a guest list of family, friends and former school teachers that she expected to be in the audience at Phoenix Symphony Hall for last weekend’s three performances. “I’m so excited to see everyone afterwards. I can’t wait for them to see me and hopefully feel proud of how far I’ve come. They knew me when I was just starting out and they had a big hand in helping me develop into the artist I am today.”

How far she’s come, indeed. In the 10 years since she graduated from Xavier College Preparatory in Phoenix, she earned her bachelor’s in vocal performance from Catholic University, her master’s degree from UCLA and spent four years as a resident artist with Philadelphia’s Academy of Vocal Arts.

In the past two years, she’s brought home top prizes from a number of prestigious vocal competitions including the 2017 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, The Gerda Lissner Foundation Vocal Competition and the Richard Tucker Foundation’s 2017 Sara Tucker Study Grant.

Her Arizona Opera debut is one of several title role debuts she will make this season including with Lyric Kansas City Opera in “Cosí fan tutte” and “La bohème” with Opera Philadelphia and Santa Fe Opera.

We caught up with the 28-year-old Vasquez 48 hours before she took the Phoenix Symphony Hall stage. Here are three things we learned about her that make us excited to see her take the Tucson Music Hall stage on Saturday, Feb. 2:

  1. Natural born talent: Vasquez apparently began singing before she was able to speak. At least that’s what her parents told her. And they saw a lot of promise in their daughter; at age 6, they enrolled her with a vocal coach. In her senior year of high school she was part of the Xavier Prep’s production of “My Fair Lady” and she was hooked. “The theater bug just bit me and I realized, this is what I wanted to do, perform,” she said.
  2. Falling into opera: “I didn’t grow up with the typical opera singer background,” Vasquez said. “I didn’t grow up listening to opera.” But when she was a freshman vocal major at Catholic University, a voice teacher gently persuaded her that she would make a very fine opera singer. “I thought, ‘Opera? I don’t know anything about opera,’” Vasquez recalled. “I didn’t really see myself doing it, but then she really helped me and taught me everything I needed to know. She sent me YouTube clips of famous opera singers and I thought, wow, this is beautiful.”
  3. Being Violetta: “I love playing Violetta. It’s one of opera’s greatest masterpieces and it’s huge … because she’s the heart of the story and it’s probably one of the most challenging (roles) I’ve ever prepared for. You have to give every aspect of yourself as an artist, mind, body and soul. It’s quite a challenge, but I love it. I admire her greatly.”

Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at cburch@tucson.com or 573-4642. On Twitter @Starburch

Cathalena has covered music for the Star for the past 20 years. She's a graduate of Arizona State University has worked at Sedona Red Rock News, Niagara Gazette in Niagara Falls, New York; and USA Today.