San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

She Came, She Sang, She Conquered

Costa Rica’s bona fide diva, internationally renowned soprano Iride Martínez, returned to native soil last week to perform as part of the countrywide 18th Credomatic Music Festival.

Born in San José, Martínez left for Los Angeles, California, in the mid-1980s and studied with the storied Swedish former performer and vocal coach, Esther Andreas.

After making occasional appearances in Italy and Argentina for years, her career took off after she moved to Germany in the mid-’90s. Her breakthrough came in 1998, when a panel of 50 music critics awarded her the coveted title of Young Artist of the Year for her acclaimed performance of Viola at the world premiere of Manfred Trojahn’s “Was Ihr Wollt” (Twelfth Night) at the Munich State Opera.

Since then, she has performed throughout Europe at a host of international festivals and opera houses, from Vienna to Bilbao, Rome, Paris, Salzburg and the Canary Islands. In May, she made her debut at Milan’s famed La Scala opera house in Lorin Maazel’s “1984.”

Martínez and her husband, pianist Siegmund Weinmeister of Austria, keep an apartment in Cologne, Germany, and live in the Marche region in central Italy, just south of San Marino on the Adriatic Sea, “near Pesaro, where Rossini was born,” they say.

Martínez and Weinmeister also serve as president and vice president, respectively, of the Jóvenes Cantantes organization (, which supports aspiring young Costa Rican singers, especially to help them translate their singing into professional careers.

The soprano sat down with The Tico Times this week to dish on plastic surgery, lessons from Plácido Domingo and dancing the cancan on top of a table onstage.

TT: How is it to be back in Costa Rica?

IM: Oh, we’re always back! … We’re here often with the foundation, but it’s been two years since the last concert.

How old are you now?

My mom won’t like it that I tell you my age. Say I’m in my 40s. I don’t have a problem with it, but she wouldn’t like it. … The fact is I’m proud of my wrinkles and all that. I won’t get rid of them, no plastic surgery, nothing. Period.

What did you learn from working with Esther Andreas?

She taught me to sing. She taught me the steps to achieve the technique … things about the sound, the emission of the sound, things I’ve taken with me since.

Is there a style or period of music with which you identify most?

I feel really good singing (bel) canto, which is what I’m focusing on right now, with Donizetti, Bellini of Italian opera. But I’ve also put a lot of extensive effort into singing different things, contemporary opera, German opera, too. I can’t stick with just one; I like a lot of them. It’s just that I can interpret Italian opera better, or I have a certain ability that is perhaps more intense.

You have a very expressive, almost comedic presence on stage. How important is the acting in comparison to the singing?

I love that part. … And you hit the nail on the head because I studied theater. Actually, my dream was to be an actress. That was my original idea. … I took singing for theater electives … and after three years, I realized that opera could be where I could combine the two things that I love: singing and theater.

It perfectly unites the two. I sing a lot of concerts, but I love the stage, I love to do opera. That’s when I feel I’m at my best.

Are there any artists or operas in particular you like to perform? Is it primarily Italian opera?

Many, many, and not just Italian opera. For example, Lorin Maazel’s opera “1984” at La Scala was beautiful, and the roles were just beautiful … things that always keep me on the tips of my toes. Very interesting things, and, moreover, very creative. … (I worked with one director who) told me, “I would like you to do this scene as if you were half-drunk; take a drink from the elixir of amore. You’re going to be almost trembling.”

And I ended up dancing cancan on top of the table on the stage, something that came out of me, or he gave me the idea, and I carried it out. It’s a really wonderful thing to be able to bring out more ideas.

What was it like to perform Lucia (the mad scene)?

Lucia is one of those performances that I like. Maybe because I feel good, comfortable vocally, and then there’s the whole technical part, too.

Our Italian friends always laugh at us because our house looks like a camp, and when we have the guys from the foundation, it’s full of Costa Ricans … every person from the foundation that comes from Costa Rica, about five or six singers … a Costa Rican artist colony.

In 2004, you shared the stage with Plácido Domingo. What was that like?

He’s a great artist, a total gentleman, a phenomenal person. The most interesting thing about working with people like this, such as Renée Fleming or … Fabio Luisi, is that they teach you many things. … One particular thing about Plácido Domingo, for example, is that he sings with his whole heart and soul, and he gives the public everything. He doesn’t hold anything back or economize, but brings everything to the stage. …

And this is something you have to learn. You can’t be afraid. You have to go for it. (The Spanish tenor is set to perform in Costa Rica in November; see story on Page W4.)

Is there someone who you would say has challenged you most in your career?

Yes, Weinmeister! As a Costa Rican, we work with things in a certain way, and living with someone else with such a distinct mentality and culture … I’m very emotional and I get really depressed when things don’t go well, but Siegmund will say, “Well, this is a difficulty, but we’ll do what we have to do to resolve it.” It’s a very European (mentality) … much more pragmatic.

Also, long-term vision, which is something that we (Latinos) don’t often have. To see things with the perspective of “Well, this is where I am now, but where do I want to go? What plans do I have?” … And this translates to the art in everything, in the work and the preparation. If you look at things only in the short term or if something doesn’t work, you completely lose the desire to follow through with things. On the other hand, if you think, “All right, these (difficulties) won’t affect me now, because I want to reach this objective” … It’s about getting there with a little more assurance.

So what’s the long-term plan for you now? Is there a role you haven’t performed that you’d like to do?

No, I think I’m looking at my long-term career plan in a different sense. With the quantity of work I’ve had these last 12 years until I stop singing, and what will happen after singing, because that’s another very important part. … If there’s one thing I’m working for right now, it’d be to be a professor in a conservatory in Europe.

What would you say are some of the most encouraging things happening today in Costa Rican classical music?

In Costa Rica, there’s a lot of great talent, and it’s a big movement right now. We also probably focus a bit more on singing.

Any rising stars?

My (foundation’s) singers!


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