Athlone Artists welcomes to its roster bass-baritone Jesús Vicente Murillo, who has been aptly praised by Opera News as “utterly loveable, with an expansive sound and easy stage presence.” The “sturdy and authoritative bass-baritone” (Opera Chaser) can be heard this coming February and March in the roles of Guillermo Kahlo/Rockefeller/ E.G. Robinson/Petate Vendor in Robert Xavier Rodríguez’s Frida with both Michigan Opera Theatre and El Paso Opera. He will then sing the role of Il Prince di Bouillon in Adriana Lecouvreur with Baltimore Concert Opera, perform the title role in Iannis Xenakis’s Kassandra with the Chamber Cartel of Atlanta, and play Zuniga in Carmen as a Gerdine Young Artist with Opera Theatre of St. Louis. In 2021 he played the role of Leporello in Don Giovanni with Fargo-Moorhead Opera; sang as bass soloist in Fauré’s Requiem with The Church of St.-Martin-in-the-Fields; and sang in the Penn Square Music Festival’s concert, “Basses and Beer.”
Murillo didn’t come from a particularly musical family – other than his mom managing a rock band for a brief period in the 1970s. As a well-rounded youth growing up in Detroit, Michigan, Murillo was on the wrestling team and loved swimming and sports – but as soon as he discovered the theater, he found his true passion. “I joined the choir, taught myself how to read music, and I really fell in love with it,” he reminisces. “Acting is the best part of performing and I love it.”
Despite his desire to seek a career in musical theater, Murillo lacked resources for voice lessons while in high school. What the young bass-baritone did have, though, was passion, determination, and talent – which was recognized by leadership of Detroit’s Rackham Symphony Choir who offered him a pivotal scholarship. “I was so grateful,” says Murillo. “They helped me find a voice teacher and navigate the daunting college application and audition process.” It was in his time as a voice major at the University of Michigan that he found his place in opera. When he graduated, he continued to study the art form as a master’s candidate at McGill University in Montreal.
“I now believe that musical theater and opera are fundamentally the same thing,” he says. “I consider myself a singing actor, not just a singer. Early on, I heard a director say, ‘keep on going with a character and we’ll know when you’ve gone too far.’ I’ve really lived by that. I especially love comedy. Having the laughter and joy of the audience in your hand is one of the most precious things imaginable.”
Already in his young career, Murillo has appeared with Michigan Opera Theatre, Chautauqua Opera, Opera Saratoga, Opera Louisiane, Charlottesville Opera, Caramoor, Opera in Williamsburg, Salt Lake Choral Artists, Seagle Music Colony, Arbor Opera Theater, Thompson Street Opera, Bare Opera, and Main Street Opera. In 2019 he completed a two-year residency with Utah Opera where he sang over 450 performances with the company, and where Opera News cited his “potent baritone, and passion” in his dual role of the Spanish Sailor and Captain Gardiner in Moby Dick.
“2020 was going to be my year,” Murillo playfully pines. “I had just moved to Philadelphia on a wild leap of faith, and I was chosen to be an Apprentice Artist at Santa Fe. It was going to be the year that everything took off!” But Murillo is always one to stay upbeat, and he found ways to remain creative throughout the pandemic. “I spent a lot of time writing art song and even putting together an opera,” says Murillo, who is proud of his compositions and regularly writes his own coloratura. “I also did a lot of painting – something that started when I needed to decorate my house and has become one of my favorite hobbies.”
When the world began to reopen, Murillo quickly got back to his beloved business of musical theater and opera, and began the process of seeking management. “I immediately had a strong connection to Miguel Rodriguez and Athlone Artists. Miguel is intelligent, warm, and has already been an incredible advocate for me and my career. Meeting him – I think it was fate.”