Tenor Rene Barbera makes his Washington Concert Opera debut on Sunday as Elvino in Bellini's "La Sonnambula." Fresh from performing the role of Tamino in Mozart's "The Magic Flute" at Chicago's Ravinia Festival, he is eager to make his Washington debut.

"This is the first time I've sung this role," he said. "I've always loved singing bel canto music; the higher the notes the better. Elvino fits my personality because I can be a little bit of a hot head when upset. It's easy to understand why he is furious to learn that his sweetheart, Amina, is found in another man's chambers. No wonder. Who would believe an excuse like sleepwalking?"

Barbera already has accumulated many prestigious honors. In 2008, he won the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and was invited to become a member of San Francisco Opera's Merola Opera Program that same year. Gianna Rolandi, the director of Lyric Opera of Chicago Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center, was so impressed by his gorgeous bel canto range at the Met auditions that she invited him to become a member of her company. He has sung major roles there every year since 2009.

"The first time I ever heard it was at a senior recital in college when I was going through a bad breakup," he said. "It was a gorgeous, heartbreaking song that helped me get through the pain. The one I sang at the Operalia was only the second zarzuela piece I've sung in a concert."

'La Sonnambula'
Where: George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium, 730 21st St. NW
When: 2 p.m. Sunday
Info: $40 to $110; 202-364-5826; concertopera.org

Barbera's career choice happened by chance. He had enjoyed singing in his high school choir in San Antonio and was about to begin computer studies in Colorado, when he changed his mind and applied to the University of Texas in San Antonio to become a high school choir director. Before long, his professors urged him to transfer from education to performance. That very first year, he auditioned for and won admission to a summer music program in Graz, Austria. Even though the cost seemed prohibitive, he took the advice of friends who urged him to put together a letter to relatives asking for donations.

"Members of my family were musical, and I heard a lot of jazz growing up, but after I began singing in choirs, I developed a love for classical music," he said. "I've had so many big breaks that it's hard to pinpoint one. In looking back, I have to say that the Met competition and joining San Francisco's Merola program were major events. More recently, winning the Operalia prizes have given me a lot of publicity and opened many doors. This season, I'll sing the role of Don Ramiro in 'La Cenerentola' with both the Seattle Opera and the Los Angeles Opera, and next summer I'm cast in Rossini's 'La Donna del Lago' at Santa Fe, [N.M.]. For the future, I'd love to do another 'Elixir' and a 'Boheme.' There are wonderful roles out there, and each one I sing is a great pleasure."