Pacific alumnus sets aside possible health care career to pursue passion as opera singer
Jorge Torrez ’20 had a practical career path picked out for himself, but instead decided to pursue his passion to become an opera singer.
Jorge Torrez ’20 discovered his love for music in high school, but he had a practical career planned for himself when he enrolled in Cabrillo Community College in Aptos.
He had grown up in Salinas as one of five children in a tightly-knit family, after all, and nobody in his family had ever attended a four-year university. He planned to get a degree in a medical field and stay where he grew up, close to people and places he knew well.
“When I first started at Cabrillo I was studying pre-med in hopes to work in a hospital and continue my studies to become a radiologist,” said Torrez. “As I joined the college choirs, my passion for music took over and I eventually became a music major.”
Cheryl Anderson, Cabrillo Community College’s director of choral and vocal studies, had already sent three of her students to the Pacific’s Conservatory of Music and encouraged Torrez to transfer to pursue a bachelor’s degree in music performance at Pacific.
“We heard that they were doing well and one of the students had me check out the school,” said Torrez. “I met Professor Burr C. Phillips and instantly enjoyed my meeting with him, as well as my initial lesson. He had a lot of wonderful things to say, and he was very knowledgeable about the voice. He is one of the most important people who have helped me become the performer I am today.”
Before pursuing vocal performance at the Conservatory, Torrez was a choral soloist, choral music teacher and choreographer, and learned to play violin and cello. At Pacific, he became a professionally trained musician singing as a countertenor, a type of classical male singing voice whose vocal range is equivalent to that of a female contralto or mezzo-soprano, which is quite rare.
“I entered Pacific as a tenor. Professor Phillips helped me explore my new voice as a countertenor and I haven’t looked back since,” said Torrez. “He has helped me through this tough transition into figuring out how to sing again in this new register. I am also grateful for the amazing help from Professor Lynelle Wiens. I couldn’t have asked for a better duo of teachers to help and guide me into this next chapter in my life.”
Wiens and Phillips worked together to help Torrez adjust.
“Jorge’s willingness to continue studying as a countertenor led me to teaching him, as a team, with Dr. Lynelle Wiens, who has immense experience with this voice type,” said Phillips. “Together, we have worked in thoughtful tandem from week to week as his mentor team.”
Torrez soon started to earn recognition for his vocal skills. In 2017, he won the Stockton Opera Guild’s Kathe Underwood Scholarship Competition, which provides financial awards to promising young singers who plan to study opera. In January 2019, he traveled with Pacific Opera Theatre Director Jim Haffner and fellow students to the National Opera Association Conference in Salt Lake City where he was featured in Haffner’s Michael Chekhov Acting Technique sessions. It was after that demonstration that Torrez received an invitation from the executive director of the International Baroque Academy in Germany to try out for the program and study voice with Scottish countertenor Christopher Robson in summer 2019.
“I was accepted as one of 15 international artists and spent two weeks in Oberdorf, Germany,” said Torrez. “I received lessons in German diction, baroque dance, baroque gestures, voice lessons, voice coaching, and performed in masterclasses and concerts in nearby cities in Austria.”
He then returned to Pacific to complete his undergraduate training.
Life can take unexpected and exciting turns when a person follows their passion. It often takes courage and determination to break out of a mold, as did Torrez. He is also thankful to his mentors who encouraged him to pursue his dreams and helped him grow as a performer and musician along the way.
After graduation, Torrez is hoping to audition for grad schools specializing in Baroque performance or to find a teacher who could help him further develop his vocal and performance skills.