Back-to-back live streams from the Metropolitan Opera to movie theaters everywhere—this is not the usual welcome package for newcomers at America’s premier opera house. But, world, say hello to Jonathan Tetelman, the GQ-ready, Chilean-born, New Jersey–bred star tenor with golden-age Hollywood looks and burnished, laser-focused high notes to burn. At 35, with about five minutes’ worth of experience on regional American stages and six seasons of increasingly impressive international triumphs to his credit, Tetelman makes his debut at Lincoln Center this spring with two Puccini operas in eight weeks.

“Puccini is the ground floor for me,” Tetelman said on a recent Zoom call. “The first important role I ever did was Rodolfo, in La Bohème, in Fuzhou, China, in May 2017. Puccini let me really develop my voice and understand who Jonathan sounds like, whose voice Jonathan is. Puccini is my guide to my career.” In the rarity La Rondine, which closed at the Met last weekend, he was Ruggero, a country bumpkin rekindling a Paris courtesan’s lost innocence. Through May 11, he’s Lieutenant B. F. (for Benjamin Franklin) Pinkerton, playing house with a teenage geisha in Madama Butterfly.

Not that Tetelman hasn’t already made a mark in Verdi and Massenet. He’s also looking forward to his first “official” Don José, the brigadier unstrung by Bizet’s Carmen, coming soon in San Francisco. “I did José once, in Moldova, with a day of rehearsal,” he says. “I don’t count that. It was just once.”

MATTHEW GUREWITSCH: Your bios always identify you as Chilean-born. Do you still have connections to South America?

JONATHAN TETELMAN: Unfortunately, no. I know where I was born and when I was born. But the adoption records are sealed.

M.G.: People also seem to know that you used to be a D.J. Are there connections between spinning platters and singing opera?

J.T.: Quite a few! The most obvious is you’re not just making or spinning music. You’re giving a performance. You’re in charge of how the whole room is resonating. Essentially, the jobs are very similar.

M.G.: What was your gateway into “serious” music?

J.T.: I started singing at the American Boychoir School, in Princeton, New Jersey. I never liked opera until I got to the Manhattan School of Music as an undergrad and started seeing performances at New York City Opera and the Met, and the operas we did in school. That’s when I got the itch.

In the 2018 revival of Jonathan Miller’s 2009 La Bohème at the English National Opera, in London, Tetelman and Natalya Romaniw took over as Rodolfo, the poet, and Mimì, who embroiders flowers.

M.G.: And you knew right away that you wanted to be a tenor?

J.T.: I never wanted to be a tenor! Not at all! I always found the tenor voice to be thin and uninteresting and squeaky and not as cool as the baritone! I wanted to be somewhere between Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Bryn Terfel.

M.G.: What changed your mind?

J.T.: Carmen at the City Opera. I was fascinated by everything, even the tenor, the way he handled the enormous room with his voice and the drama. I was enraptured.

M.G.: If opera hadn’t been your path, what other path might there have been?

J.T.: None!

M.G.: Tell me about the mystique and the reality and the importance of high notes.

J.T.: If you don’t have the right setup or intention your whole life will be filled with horrible high notes. If you want a great high note, you have to build certain mechanics of your voice: a rock-solid support system, a rock-solid passaggio system where the vocal registers shift, perfect vowels, some strength. For me, as a tenor, the top is the most important part of the voice. If you don’t have that, you won’t have a good career, or you’ll have a short one.

M.G.: In Florence two years ago, you and Plácido Domingo had the title roles in Verdi’s I Due Foscari—he, singing baritone, as Francesco Foscari, you as his son, Jacopo Foscari. What was that like?

J.T.: He walks into the room, and you know: This is a star. The way he walks, looks, presents himself.... Onstage, the way he can consume a character is unbelievable. He’s one of the greatest actors I’ve seen.

M.G.: He’s also famous for his generosity to tenors on their way up. Did he take you under his wing?

J.T.: He invited me to a private dinner with his agent and the director of the festival in Florence. If people in that league like someone, they want to take him with them—it’s a little mafioso, but I understand that’s how the world works.

Jonathan Tetelman’s latest album, The Great Puccini, is available on Spotify and other streaming platforms. At the Metropolitan Opera, in New York, Tetelman co-stars with Asmik Grigorian in Madama Butterfly through May 11. The final performance will be transmitted to cinemas globally on the Met’s Live in HD series

Matthew Gurewitsch writes about opera and classical music at AIR MAIL. He lives in Hawaii