Sunday, July 1, 2018

Artist Profile: Lisette Oropesa

Anyone familiar with these pages, or with today's opera world at all, should know of the lovely Lisette Oropesa. She was member of the Met's Lindemann Young Artist Program at 21, is a veteran of over 100 Metropolitan Opera performances in the not-very-many years since, including appearances in eight HD broadcasts, and is now an international star appearing in leading opera houses all over the world.

She is currently killing as Lucia at the Teatro Real in Madrid (see what I did there?). Fernando Remiro wrote in, " was Lisette Oropesa who brought the house down with her candidness on stage and her total match with the production’s concept."  

I myself wrote of two live performances I was fortunate to see:

Lisette Oropesa's Sophie was adorable, her singing completely beautiful and her characterization of the bubbly young girl believable. (Werther, Metropolitan Opera, 2014)

I was surprised to learn Lisette Oropesa, who sings delicious Nanettas and Susannas and Maries (Fille du Regiment) all over the world, would sing Violetta. But I was delighted with the result....Best of all, we believed her as a young woman who knows her days are numbered and makes choices with that in mind. (La Traviata, Opera Philadelphia, 2015)

Lisette and I recently had a delightful chat on Skype, and following are a few excerpts.

On repertoire, her early association with high and light roles:

When I was doing Nannetta and Sophie in Werther, I was fresh out of the [Lindemann] Young Artist Program.  I was young, and they wanted to take care of me.  Those roles were huge opportunities, and performing those roles led to other opportunities. 

As Violetta at Opera Philadelphia
Photo:  Steven Harris
At the same time I was performing Nannetta and Sophie, I was coaching Lucia and Violetta, the types of roles that I would sing in a few years—but not necessarily at the Met.  I think the Met can be hard on singers, because of the size of the house.  People aren’t heard the same way, and larger voice types are generally preferable.  Singers might come across differently in a house the size of the Met than they do in other houses.  

I did La Traviata in Philly when I was 32.  I hemmed and hawed with the decision when it was offered to me. I didn’t know if I was ready. I had coached the role with Renata Scotto, along with many others, and she asked me why I would wait. She said the role calls for an interpreter, and she thought I would do it well.  It doesn’t matter if you’re on the dramatic side or the coloratura side—every singer has a stake in the role.  Violetta is for a singer who knows how to interpret a role.  The tragedy of La Traviata is that Violetta dies too young. I did it in Philly, and it went very well.  I’m doing it again this fall.  I will do it again a few times in the coming years.  I want to keep growing into it. 

Photo:  Steven Harris
It’s certainly not an easy role.  I can't sing the high notes in Sempre libera the way I sing them in Ah, non guinge or Caro nome or any of the lighter coloratura roles.  Because of what the aria is about:  First there's Ah, fors'√© lui, which in my opinion requires a different color altogether.  Even the coloratura in Sempre libera is musically dramatic--accented high notes, powerful scales, and tons of emotion, and it comes at the end of the demanding first act.  So it isn’t just a floaty, dream-like aria, it’s the first moment of authenticity for the character.  For me the first act is the hardest because it's when you establish who Violetta is.  Then by the time I get to the third act, it feels easier to just let go.

I love the roles I’m singing now. I’m not ready to leave this rep.  There are still roles I haven’t performed.  I haven’t done I Puritani, and there are French roles I haven’t done—including some things that I have coming up that I’m very excited about.  I’m hoping my voice doesn’t plateau on me, doesn’t stop growing and changing.  I don’t want to age out of some roles before I have had a chance to sing them.

[Here is Lisette’s schedule, full of the sort of roles she is speaking of.]

On challenges along the path:

I started the Lindemann Young Artist Program straight out of college, so I didn’t get a transition period—no programs at smaller opera companies, no graduate school.  I was only 21 when I came to New York, and had never lived anywhere outside of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  It was all new and overwhelming. I had to sink or swim and start doing what I needed to do very early.  I was singing more and studying a lot more rep, and my voice began to change. It took a while to find the right teacher in New York.  At first it was a little bit difficult. 

There’s always a new challenge.  Every time I sing a new engagement, every time I go to a new city.  It feels like even after a dozen years in “the circuit” I think I know what to expect, but even then my body is always changing, my voice is always changing.

On running:

Lucia at Teatro Real
Photo:  Javier del Real
Losing weight was a big thing for me.  When I was in the Young Artist Program, I thought, here I am in New York, in this prestigious program. They’re paying me to be here, investing time and money in my future. I’m not going to mess this up now, I’ve got to make the most of this opportunity.  The time was right to take action.  Overall I lost about 75 pounds, but it took about five years.  I did it the slow, careful, painful way. Running became a part of that, and now it’s become a part of my life.  It’s become part of who I am.  I’ve done half marathons and full marathons, although I haven’t done any in a long time because my schedule has been so full with engagements I haven’t been able to devote the time to training.  But I still run 5 days a week!  (Lisette loves the Yonkers Half Marathon.  Funny how Yonkers comes up in every discussion.  Yonkers or Norma.  Ideally both.)

Is there a role that will never fit you that you want to sing, possibly in the bathtub?

Tosca.  Many years from now, if it becomes fashionable to do a light lyric Tosca, I might perform it.  I just love listening to Tosca and thinking about getting to kill a baritone.  (As a tenor, I had to agree.) 

Any roles from your fach you don’t want to sing, or to sing again?

In the past I’ve been offered the role of Despina, but I am not interested in it.   I don’t really care for the role, and even though the opera has some sublime moments, I just don’t love it, so I have never agreed to do it. 

As Susanna opposite Zachary Nelson
Santa Fe Opera
Photo:  Ken Howard
But I do love Nozze and have had nothing but joy as Susanna.  My calendar has been filling up with other things, though, and I don’t have any more planned.  I probably won’t do it any more. I might sing the Countess one day, but I’m not flying toward lyric-land.  Another Mozart role I would love to sing is Ilia.  I’m singing the aria in a concert this summer.  I would love for someone to hear it and cast me as Ilia. 

I have been offered Blonde before and I have turned it down because it sits too high for me.  Same goes for several other higher roles like Zerbinetta and Lakm√©.  I just don’t have a solid high E.  My voice is more suited to Konstanze; I’ve done it several times, and will continue to keep singing it, fortunately.  It’s one of my most performed roles and I think the opera is a total masterpiece.

In your Q&A videos on YouTube, you speak so eloquently and clearly about vocal technique.  Do you teach?

Thank you!  My mom is a music teacher, and she has always had voice students.  She was a tremendous influence on me, so I kind of have the bug. From my mom I learned how to talk to people about singing, and I learned from figuring out a few technical things on my own.  I’ve also gotten some great tips from coaches. So many coaches have known the one thing to say in the moment that made a huge difference in my singing. My technique has become very solid.  I feel like I know what I’m doing.  I have given masterclasses and private lessons and coachings, but I don’t have a private studio.  However I think eventually I will. 

I enjoy listening to other singers because I can hear what they’re doing, and can talk to them about it. Although you can’t teach every student the same way; the dialogue has to vary.  Some need to know which muscles are moving and when.  Some need musical ideas more than technical advice.  I don’t tend to use pedagogy or technical terms when teaching because I have found that even though we learn all of that in school, in practice all of those muscles are involuntary.  You can’t control them.  In fact there’s very little you can control, such as the tongue, but even that works independently sometimes.  I instead try to focus on breath, vowels, placement, and where it “feels” like the air is going.

On reviews:

People ask me whether I read reviews.  I do.  I’ve gotten some wonderful reviews, and sometimes I get negative ones too.  Most often negative comments have to do with my voice being light or the reviewer preferring a bigger voice in the role being reviewed.  That’s fine, to me that’s a matter of taste. 

I think most singers do read reviews.  It’s only natural that we want to know what is being said about our work.  And bad ones are hard to swallow.  I am still trying to learn how to put them into context, or how to let them go.  The trouble is, I put equal weight on the negative and the positive.  If I dismiss that one nasty review or that one comment, then I have to dismiss the positive reviews, I have to dismiss the people who tell me I moved them. 

However I don’t let reviews affect my performances.  I try to sing every performance like it is my last one.  With every performance, I try to be authentic, to sing honestly, organically, because in the end, I can go home knowing I gave it my all.

On social media and her public persona:

I’m usually a very open person.  I maintain a very personal connection with my friends  and fans, although I’m not sure I like the word fans—puts too much distance between me others. I’ve been working on my presence in social media. For a long time I resisted hiring publicity agents--people to arrange interviews and public appearances and get my name in the news--and I still don’t have publicity agents in the US.  I thought it would all happen organically, but I learned it doesn’t.  My husband is a web developer, and he does my web site and handles most of the publicity, like a “post of the day” or sharing photos or news about a performance on social media. I do all the personal interaction with people on social media.  When people write to me, they are writing to me. 

On the sad fact that she has so few performances in the US on her calendar in the coming years:

I don’t have as much coming up in the US as I do in Europe.  I’m not at the Met this season, but I will be there the season after, and the following seasons.  I’m doing Santa Fe next summer.  I have something in Houston a few years down the road, plus I have some concerts. 

For me it’s just naturally happened that I have most of my engagements here in Europe, which has made me very happy, because these theatres and audiences are wonderful.

My husband travels with me—he can work wherever he is.  We have a lot of flexibility.  We’re very happy, very fortunate. 

Photo at the top:  Steven Harris

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