Opera singer Carlos Martinez, on finding his voice and conquering circumstances

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Opera Carlos
Opera singer Carlos Martinez. Courtesy Photo

spotlightMANCHESTER, NH – When Carlos Martinez speaks his voice rises above all others –  not only for its volume, but for its rich mahogany tones politely requesting your respect.  Performing in nine languages on more than 5,000 occasions worldwide, singing with his idol Placido Domingo, and being the first man to perform an opera in English on a stage built by Catherine the Great at the Hermitage Museum in Russia, it’s no wonder he was plucked from the slums for a destiny he could not imagine.

The story of Carlos Martinez is one of conquest over circumstance. Born in Chicago and raised in Texas by Spanish and Mexican parents, childhood proved to be dire. Martinez grew up in the “barrio,” a term he uses to define a primarily Spanish-speaking ghetto.

“I was born into extreme poverty, I knew nothing else,” he says in a dulcet tone that belies the violence and hardship of his struggle. “I always knew as a kid there was something better for my life.”

His desire to escape his adverse circumstances resulted in a sense of self-discipline beyond his years. He trained himself to speak without an accent, reasoning this may be a way to bring him a step closer to an improved life. Ridiculed by his peers for his lofty ideas, Martinez pursued a future that seemed an impossibility.  He joined the school band and, during his sophomore year in high school, fate stepped in, allowing his silent yearnings to unfold.

One day, choir teacher Dottie Randall, who had toured with major opera companies, heard Martinez shouting profanities to a fellow student. After hearing his resonant bass echoing through the hallway, she called him into her classroom.

Carlos Martinez serves as director for Center Harbor Town Band, among other avocations. Courtesy Photo

“You are going to be in choir now – you have talent and you can get somewhere,” says Martinez, recalling his teacher’s words. Scheduling made it impossible to be in both band and choir. Martinez chose choir.  Ms. Randall mentored him, and continued to nurture his talent.

Martinez auditioned in many high school competitions which enabled him to learn songs in foreign languages. While researching his audition material, Martinez discovered his operatic influences, including Luciano Pavarotti, Ezio Pinza and Placido Domingo.

A second high school mentor, Elizabeth Moad, continued to develop Martinez’s’ musical path, explaining – to his disbelief –  that his voice could earn him a college scholarship. Through her networking, encouragement and direction, Martinez received a full scholarship to St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas.

“Music literally lifted me from the ashes, and my mentors guided me,” he says.

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In addition to being an accomplished voclaist, Carlos Martinez lends his musical talents to mentoring through conducting. Courtesy Photo

After college Martinez studied in Europe, a long way from the barrio and his life in Texas. He was fascinated with the discovery of ancient architecture, diverse culture, and varying accents. He fell in love with Europe and performed there multiple times throughout his life.

“Something in me liked adventure – I wanted to see new things, none of my closest friends had that in them. They wanted to stay in the barrio,” he says.

Eventually Martinez made his way to the Northeast, settling in New Hampshire. In an attempt to find extra work, he was hired by the Derry public school system as a music teacher. Today, he continues to teach in the Shaker Regional School District.

In addition to being a school teacher, Martinez is also a conductor, music director, and has a private vocal and performing arts practice that has churned out many local talents.

His private practice is not limited to vocal lessons. Through his extensive vocal pedagogy, he has been able to help students with vocal nodes and other tonal impairments previously requiring surgery, and has even corrected speech impediments, including lisps.

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Carlos Martinez works with student Seanna Kelly in his studio. Courtesy Photo

“I want to give kids joy; when I teach, I want them to laugh and let them know they are loved. My lessons are how I give back and [the students] can feel it,” Martinez says, his passion coming through. A quote by Ludwig van Beethoven hangs above the entrance to his music studio, “Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy,” which serves as more than a beacon to all who enter; it speaks to his personal journey, from his humble beginnings to his continued evolution as performer and mentor.

In response to his extraordinary account of a life elevated by music, Martinez responds simply and humbly, “God has been good to me.”

It’s a journey that’s far from over, says Martinez, as he mentions his latest adventure. He’s currently embarking on a new phase of his career, in voiceover work.

Thanks to another twist of fate, Martinez is now collaborating with fellow resident of Wall Street Tower, Mark Schoenfeld, who penned the 2004 Broadway play “Brooklyn: The Musical.” The two met serendipitously, and bonded over their mutual musical influences.  Schoenfeld quickly established that Martinez was a perfect fit for the voice behind Eli Crescendo, the villain in an original animated film in the works by Schoenfeld and his Brooklyn co-creator, Barri McPherson, called “The Music Boy.”

Martinez, as always, is rising to the challenge.

“I would like to be the next James Earl Jones,” says Martinez of the ambitious project, in a voice that resonates with the timbre of his dreams.

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Constance Cherise is a multi-passionate entrepreneur. She is a classic movie-lover, empowerment coach, foodie, Disco “everything” fanatic, aspiring writer and artist. You can contact her at constance.cherise@gmail.com

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About this Author

Constance Cherise

Constance Cherise is a freelance writer and contributor for Turner Classic MoviesSee her work here.