Talking with singers: Lisette Oropesa
Fresh off her "exceptional" run as Norina in Mariame Clément's Don Pasquale at this summer's Glyndebourne Festival, soprano Lisette Oropesa is gearing up to sing the title role in the first revival of Katie Mitchell's controversial production of Lucia di Lammermoor at the Royal Opera House. The Cuban-American singer will spend the rest of her season at the Metropolitan Opera (Gretel in Hänsel and Gretel), the Bayerische Staatsoper (Konstanze in Die Entführung aus dem Serail), and Los Angeles Opera (Euridice in Orfeo ed Euridice, Lucia in Lucia di Lammermoor).
Busy as she is, Oropesa took the time to chat about the roles that affect her most, the trick to standing out in a soprano-heavy opera world, and how she keeps a clear head amid her packed schedule.
Why do you sing?
I sing because it is my gift. Ever since I was young I have been singing, and I can't remember a time when music was not a part of my life. I truly feel that this is what I've been put on this earth to do; namely, to share something divine through the gift of music. If I can move even a single person, I know that I have done justice to the gift that has been given to me.
What advice do you have for young sopranos, who may feel pressure to set themselves apart from the many skilled singers of similar voice types?
You are completely unique, and there is no other singer exactly like you. As long as you have that knowledge to begin with, you shouldn't try to compare yourself to other singers, because there are always going to be things to set you apart from others. It is most important that in your young years, you spend your time and energy investing in your own artistry, in mastering styles and languages, and building your technique. Those things are the most important to have a long career, and you build those good habits young.
Do you have any upcoming roles with whom you feel a particular sympathy or connection?
Yes, the role of Violetta Valéry, better known as La Traviata. My mother sang this role a lot when she was younger, so this opera has a very ingrained place in my psyche. I read the book Camille, by Dumas, and thought it was one of the most moving stories I had ever read. It does differ a bit from the opera in the ending, because Violetta dies alone, not in the arms of Alfredo. But the character is so strong throughout and you see a person whose entire life has been about building up a "career" or persona that can bring her some sort of stability, not happiness necessarily.
She has had to make personal sacrifices of happiness in order to have success in her world, in the only way she knows how. And I find that extremely sad, especially when we discover that her chances for happiness, when she finally finds it, are completely taken away from her because of her disease, and because of society. After I read the book I could not even look at the score for months. It took a while before I was able to begin to work on learning the music, which is some of the most sublime in all of opera. It truly is a masterpiece.
How do you stay healthy and sane while on the road for work?
I am lucky that my husband, Steven the wonderful, travels with me. He was for many years a brilliant IT guy, and now he works from home as a web developer, and helps me with all the tech needs my job increasingly has. We go to all our engagements together and it's really nice to have that companionship, and someone who truly supports me and understands the demands of this job. We find it really important to cultivate other interests that contribute to the operatic life, but also are separate worlds. We run outside in every place we go to, and this helps us get oriented and spend time outside each day. We cook all our meals and this helps us save money and maintain a vegan diet, which we happily follow for health and ethical reasons. We also enjoy hiking, yoga, and reading. All of those activities keep me sane and healthy!
What do you know about the singing career now, that you wish you knew 10 years ago?
The same thing I said earlier that I would tell young singers: Don't compare yourself, you are completely unique!! That, and, "invest now into your health in every way possible. Your body is your instrument. The mind is the master of the body, and the breath is the master of the mind."