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José Iñiguez: From Orchards to Opera

Pursuing a personal dream leads to celebration of family and culture

May 24, 2016
Editor’s note:
José Iñiguez presents
Encanto Holiday Opera, a concert to benefit higher education scholarships on Saturday, Nov. 26 at 6:00 p.m. at Seattle’s Moore Theatre. The evening features Iñiguez singing arias and Bolero, with musicians Jeremy Neufeld, Eddie Nicholson, Ballard Civic Orchestra, Teo Benson, and Mariachi Huenachi.  Emcees are Supreme Court Justice Steve Gonzales and designer Niveen Keaton. More details here

It’s Tuesday night in West Seattle and tenor José Iñiguez is rehearsing a particularly challenging operatic aria.  He wipes the perspiration from his face as he listens to his vocal coach, Jerry Halsey. 
“Come back off that,” Halsey instructs. “You started the crescendo too early.  I want the same dynamic but less sound.”
José begins again, his powerful voice filling the room. Margaret, a long-haired resident cat, is unfazed. José has been studying with Jerry for the last six years, a commitment that speaks to his dream of singing for a professional opera company. It began as a daydream, while picking apples in the orchard his family called home.
Iñiguez, the seventh of his parents' 11 children, grew up in the small town of Mattawa, Wash. His father, a Mexican immigrant, was foreman at the orchard. Despite tough times for the large family, music was something they could all enjoy. 
“You could always hear singing in the orchard as people worked,” says Jose to a class at Highline High School. “Every morning, my father would play his bolero music. He had siblings that were mariachis in Mexico, and he exposed me to bolero, which is an older style of mariachi music, the style without the horn section.”
As a teenager, José became even more interested in singing after he discovered opera while watching PBS. 
“It really just hit me. It told me that, you know what? This is possible. I can do this.”  
But his father made it clear that this was not a suitable career.  Brother Ricardo remembers his father telling José, “I want you to understand that this is not what I would like you to do. This is not why I came to the United States.” 
To have educated, successful children was his father’s goal, and he insisted that they earn college degrees. Not only did all 11 children obtain four-year degrees from major universities, but seven earned master’s degrees, and one is now in medical school.  
José chose to study music in college but admits, “I just wasn’t prepared mentally.” While some of his school peers had the music foundation afforded by private lessons, José did not. It was time for a hard decision. He took a break from school, but eventually returned and obtained a degree in business management. 
Iñiguez launched into a career in the travel industry. Dad was happy.
“After a couple years of having a professional salaried job, music kept calling me,” Jose recalls. “It really did. And I have to thank my sister Alexia for keeping music alive for me. She kept me going to the symphony, kept me going to the opera. I realized that I have to do this.” He adds, “I didn’t want to regret anything.” 
José’s younger brother, Jesus, introduced him to a voice coach in West Seattle, former opera tenor Jerry Halsey. It was just what José needed. To be mentored and trained by another tenor gave him the confidence to start doing professional recitals. Coupling his music skills with his marketing know-how, José has carved out a unique style that gets people in the door.  
By combining his love of operatic arias with his love of bolero, José has positioned himself as one of the few tenors in the country who crosses these two genres. And whether it’s a concert in rural Washington, a fundraiser in a private home, or a series of visits to public schools with large Latino populations, listeners come away richer for having experienced music they may never have otherwise heard. 
Halsey supports José’s unique approach at self-promotion. “When he’s combining these two elements, he gets a bigger audience. And he’s known more quickly than he would’ve been before. He’s found a niche.  He’s found a way to do it at this time in life.”
José is the first to credit his siblings with his success. “There’s no way I would be getting into my 30th concert without the support of my siblings,“ he says.”There is no way. I know that.”
He recently concluded a statewide tour of Washington and had the opportunity to perform in Europe. And as he looks forward to continuing success, he never forgets where he came from, nor do his siblings. To honor their parents, who came to the United States with nothing, and who succeeded in raising a family of successful children, the Iñiguez siblings now provide scholarships at Central and Eastern Washington Universities to migrant students.
It’s been a long journey from the orchards to the opera, and José has overcome the many obstacles that stood between him and his passion. His persistence has paid off and he believes he’s doing what he was born to do. 
He’s wistful when he talks about the feeling of performing. 
“I think it’s a sense of euphoria, actually. I used to sing and sing when I picked apples as a teenager. Sometimes I would dream that I would perform in front of people. But I didn’t think it could be at a venue like Benaroya Hall. When I performed there for 600 people, it made things clear to me. That I belonged, that I can do this.”


Made possible in part by

Kathy Tuohey

Veteran producer Kathy Tuohey has been working in broadcast television for over 25 years. From daily segments to documentaries, her expertise includes arts programming, human interest stories and education specials. She is managing producer of the Golden Apple Awards, produces the Pathways to Excellence education series, and is a contributor to IN Close.  This Northwest native’s natural curiosity about the people and places of our region keeps her on the lookout for the next great story.

More stories by Kathy Tuohey