Photo by Ashley Lodato
Roberto Elisastegui, who studied music in his native Cuba, enjoys singing for audiences – and for himself.

Any small town worth its salt has its secret treasures, and Winthrop is no exception. As local and visiting diners at the Old Schoolhouse Brewery (OSB) will attest, one of the Methow Valley’s most delightful surprises is the occasional impromptu opera concert delivered by Roberto Salina Elisastegui.

Roberto (as everyone calls him) is a Cuban tenor who has been visiting the Methow Valley for the past four summers. On occasion, Elisastegui makes a trip to the OSB dining room and bursts into song, enchanting diners with songs such as “Che gelida manina” and “Nessun dorma.” One local patron notes that when Elisastegui sings, she is in tears; she is apparently not alone in that experience.

Elisastegui always loved music, especially singing, as a child. He consumed pop music voraciously and sang in the church choir. When he attended university in Cuba, Elisastegui studied classical music and earned a degree. But it is opera that continues to capture his heart, especially the works of Puccini, whose name you probably recognize as the 19th century Italian composer of enduring operas such as “La Bohème” and “Tosca.”

Elisastegui found work singing in Cuba, providing entertainment at the high-end resorts that populate the Ciego de Avila province. During the winter months, he rides a bus out on the long key filled with idyllic beaches and sings to the resorts’ guests, then takes the bus back home. For this live entertainment provided by a university-trained opera singer, Roberto is paid $30 a month.

Elisastegui’s sister is married to a local pastor and a few years ago she invited him to come sing at the many Seventh Day Adventist churches in Okanogan County. Elisastegui continues to sing in these churches as a volunteer during his summers in the Methow Valley. Why? “Because singing makes people happy,” Elisastegui says. “It makes me happy, it makes other people happy.”

Winthrop resident George Baumgardner, who with his wife, Patty, hosts Elisastegui during the summer, echoes this sentiment, saying “Roberto looks so joyful when he sings.” The fact that Elisastegui is here, in our tiny little valley, says Baumgardner, is just another one of the Methow Valley’s surprises. “Where else can you find a tenor who can out-sing Pavarotti?” Baumgardner wonders rhetorically, adding “Roberto doesn’t get the exposure he deserves.”

The Baumgardners also host house concerts featuring Elisastegui, but they hope to increase his presence in the local classical music scene next summer, ideally in a larger venue. “His voice fills the space,” says Baumgardner. “He needs a venue that can accommodate his talent.”

Until then, however, Elisastegui continues to keep his eye on his return to Cuba and his two teenage kids at the end of October, finding every opportunity he can between now and then to bring happiness to himself and others through his voice. “It’s my life to sing,” Elisastegui says simply, a testament to the role that singing plays for him not just as livelihood, but also as lifeblood.