Samson and Delilah 101: Q&A with Rafael Davila


Headshot of a man with dark hair wearing a purple shirt and black suit

Meet tenor Rafael Davila, making his role debut as our leading man in Samson and Delilah. He has performed all around the world and returns to Opera Colorado for the first time since Tocsa (Cavaradossi) in 2021. For his performance in Tosca, audiences shared, “My favorite part was the tenor, Davila; he was amazing” and “Rafael Davila was perfect for this part and gave an outstanding performance. I hope you bring this excellent performer back for another engagement.”

Before you see Rafael Davila live in Samson and Delilah, learn more about his career as an opera singer.

See Rafael Davila in his role debut as Samson from May 4-12 at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House>>

How did you get involved in opera?

A woman in a blue dress holds hands with a man in a painting smock
Rafael Davila as Cavaradossi in Opera Colorado’s 2021 production of Tosca
Photo: Opera Colorado/Matt Staver

When I was 14, I started singing in choirs, even during my undergraduate years as a biology major. Then, while doing my doctorate in optometry, I was called to sing in the opera chorus and that’s when I was discovered. I immediately enrolled at the Puerto Rico Music Conservatory and later completed a master’s degree in opera performance at the University of Texas at Austin. I have been constantly performing around the world since.

What is special about debuting the role of Samson for you?

Samson has always been one of those roles on my bucket list. I am so grateful to Opera Colorado for giving me the opportunity to finally sing it for the first time. At this stage in my life, I think Samson is one of the perfect roles to be performing for the rest of my career. It feels like the perfect match for my talent and my vocal and dramatic capabilities.

How do you prepare for a role debut as opposed to a more familiar role?

A man with a black hat and green overcoat stands with a woman in a black dress to his left and a man in a blue and gold coat on his right.
Rafael Davila in Nabucco at the MET

Whenever there’s a literary source on which the opera is based, I try to read it first to help me understand the character. In this case, the source is the Bible. We could probably consider Samson to be the first superhero the occidental world knows. For a role I am singing for the first time, I have to spend more time learning the music, fitting it to my voice, and, finally, memorizing it.

I started this season by singing performances of Verdi’s Nabucco as well as Bizet’s Carmen at the Metropolitan Opera of New York. While I was in New York, I was able to practice this role with some of the best coaches in the business. I continued to do this work remotely while I was rehearsing Luisa Miller for Sarasota Opera in Florida. For a role I’ve sung before, it usually takes me from one to a couple of weeks to put it back in voice and memory. Naturally, the more I’ve performed a role, the less time it takes me to revise it, and vice versa.

What is your favorite part of the rehearsal process?

A woman in a red dress holds hands with a man in a navy cloak
Rafael Davila in Luisa Miller with Sarasota Opera

I enjoy the whole rehearsal process which gives us the confidence to be relaxed onstage, become the character, and give our best performance. My favorite part is when we get into costume which helps us transform into the character. I also enjoy the moment when we hear the orchestra for the first time and listen to all the different colors of the instruments. We just try to ride on top of that big texture of sound while trying to blend with it.

You were last with us for Tosca in the fall of 2021. What has been your favorite project since then?

A man wearing all black holds a woman in a red dress
Rafael Davila as Don José in Carmen with Ópera Puero Rico at the Cassals Festival

After Tosca in 2021, I reprised the role for Opera Memphis along with Maestro Ari Pelto once more. For me, it was a wonderful opportunity to repeat the role we did for the first time together in Denver for a different audience.

For the past five seasons, I’ve been part of the Metropolitan Opera of New York roster. I enjoyed singing the leading tenor roles in Carmen (Don José), Medea (Giasone), Aida (Radames), Nabucco (Ismaele), and the title role in Verdi’s Don Carlo for a total of nine performances. Meanwhile, I have also been able to add to my repertoire the leading tenor roles of Verdi’s operas Ernani and Luisa Miller at Sarasota Opera in Florida, as well as Carmen (Don José) for the prestigious Cassals Festival back home in Puerto Rico.

What do you like about Colorado? What will you do in your free time while in Denver?

A woman with curly hair points to the crowd while standing in front of a music stand
Assistant Conductor and Chorus Master Sahar Nouri in rehearsals for Samson and Delilah

I love the company, the audience, and the city. Since the first time I worked at Opera Colorado, I could feel how much Denver’s audience supports this company. It is a pleasure to sing at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. I haven’t seen more comfortable dressing rooms in any other theater around the world.

Last time I was in Denver, I had the pleasure to meet Ellie Caulkins and she has followed my career since then through the media. I am looking forward to returning and spending some time with her, as well as with my dear friends in the company–the Ellie Caulkins General & Artistic Director Greg Carpenter, Maestro Ari Pelto, and Assistant Conductor and Chorus Master Sahar Nouri.

During my free time, I like to explore a city and its history. Denver has a lot of that to offer. I have especially enjoyed driving up to the mountains. I am looking forward to exploring them again but this time in the spring season since I was last in Colorado in the fall for Tosca.

Get a preview of Rafael’s voice as he breaks down “E lucevan le stelle” from Tosca>>

Experience Samson and Delilah live at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House from May 4-12. Get tickets today>>

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