Luigi Luevano

At 74, continuously strong at heart and in voice.

By: Timothy Moonstone
Harboring a vibrant tenor's voice, softly spoken Luigi Luevano at 74 years is revered among opera buffs throughout all of San Diego. Over the many years, he has performed at a variety of venues, including the Hotel Del Coronado, La Valencia Hotel, the Westgate Hotel, L'Auberge in Del Mar and at wedding events locally and in Palm Desert. While not under contract, Luigi would perform at many of the smaller restaurant venues where he built his following of admirers who would travel to listen to his performance while at whichever location they would find him.

Catching up with Luigi in the lobby of the Westgate Hotel a number of years ago, we found just how remarkable a singer and how warm-hearted a person is he.

Just where did it all begin?
I was born in Mexico. My Father is Italian ~ my Mother French-Spanish. They left Italy in 1943 to flee the war. I was born that very year. We lived in the region of Sierra Madre, in the city of Cusihuiriacha Chihuahua. Can you say that?

When and how did you begin to sing Opera?
Both of my parents were singers. My Father played the piano and actually had an orchestra. At a very young age, I was inspired listening to records of the great tenor Enrico Caruso, a great Italian opera singer. The passion also came from my parents.

When did you move to the United States?
We moved to the United States in 1954. My plan at that young age was to follow my dream of singing opera, however, my Uncle Sam decided he needed my help and I was drafted into the Army in 1965. I had orders to Vietnam, when serendipitously as I bellowed out my operatic favorites in the shower, a Lt. Colonel just happens to be in the squad bay and hears my voice. Orders changed and I find myself assigned to Special Services entertaining the brass and their lovelies.

How did you begin to get gigs in San Diego?
As an example, I would be invited to a wedding at the Hotel Del Coronado. After the ceremony, while enjoying the reception, I would just begin to sing. Mind you, my voice carries and can you imagine how sound might carry within the confines of that remarkable hotel? Folks would begin to come in from the rafters in search of that voice, now resonating throughout the corridors. The Executive Vice-President offered me a gig on the spot.

What kind of formal training led you to be successful?
Honestly, I am sorry to say that I never had formal voice lessons nor do I have the ability to read music. It is a lifetime regret. No doubt that it affected my chances to sing at major venues and also, in the beginning, affected my status among those who I would like to have considered my peers. I had not performed at any of the major houses and had no formal training. Eventually, what won them over was the strength of my voice and I think for certain, my sense of humor. Mind you, I sang right here in San Diego with Pavorati. He was up in the balcony and I was on stage below during my performance. His coming to hear me was such an honor, and then to sing with him became a memory of a lifetime.

At which other venues in San Diego have you performed?
Many. The leading players would be he Valencia, Hotel Del Coronado, the Westgate Hotel, and many smaller restaurant venues. I held a contract for five years at the L'Auberge Del Mar.

Have you done private events as well?
Consistently, and even today I occasionally do private events. I have folks in Palm Desert who will call and ask for a performance. So many have become such great friends that I have no way of refusing their beck and call.

What other well-known singers have you performed with on stage?
John and Gayle Carpenter, who sang for the Met, Walter Ekard, William Olvis, dramatic tenor with the Met, Amedo Bacci, and Dave Caylor to name a few.

Opera seems to have been an avocation. Did you also have a career where you worked 9-5?
You must be kidding. I never worked so few hours in my life. I actually held an executive position for a tour operator and we did in-bound tours for years with folks visiting from other countries. I would work both in the office and occasionally accompany some of the tours. Interaction with others, whatever the endeavor has always been rewarding to me. After a full day of work, which at times led into the evening, I would quickly change into my theatrical outfit, drive toward whichever location held venue for the night's performance while warming my vocal cords en route. When you speak of a full day's activities, those days were overflowing, but I was young and strong. I boxed at a young age and have always been strong of body. Even now my daily regimen of proper food and vigorous exercise keep me on track.

In your opinion, who was the greatest singer of all time?
For me it was Mario Lanza because he could sing opera, operetta, ballads, and other internationally well-known tunes effortlessly. No one came close in that regard.

Some years ago, you had a tragic motoring accident on the highway. How did that affect your career?
It certainly took me out of commission. I was hit from behind, the car rolled over five times and the first responders thought that I had died. While strapped to the gurney, it hit a bump and I groaned, with one of the attendants reporting me now alive. I groggily told them that I had friends coming in from the Met and please call the Westgate Hotel to advise them that I would be late for my show. As shown in their written report, one said to the other, "He thinks he's an Opera singer". Once I led them to my briefcase to read the flyer, they were a bit astonished. It took a number of years to recover, but I am back.

You seem buoyed just speaking of the memories and seemingly zealous to confirm your next gig?
Those memories are what keep me going. As soon as my vocal cords feel strong again, I shall be looking for center stage.