I would like to thank Tucson Lifestyle Magazine for this wonderful interview that was in October's issue (Page 46).
Lucia di Lammermoor
“When you boil it down to the fundamentals. opera is an art, but it's an art that has a lot of athletics to it." says soprano Lisette Oropesa, who will star in Arizona Opera's production of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor this month.
It’s perhaps an understatement for Oropesa, both a phenomenal singer and a dedicated runner who brings all of her many facets - technical skills, charm, passion and physical endurance - to the stage.
When you see a pop performer like Madonna or Lady Gaga running around an arena in concert, it’s easy to forget that they often lip Sync, or are greatly assisted by backing tracks. Opera singers have no such safety net. It’s completely live, necessitating an intense degree of breath control and support.
Oropesa, whose off-stage personality is more bubbly and refreshing than a bottle of 7Up, has performed the demanding role of Lucia several times. She's had the opportunity to fully analyze and get in touch with the tragic character.
“She’s a teenager with a fantasy. We can all relate to that, especially if we were artsy. We were outcasts, a little strange, didn't wear the right nail polish and girls talked about us or whatever. That's what makes Lucia special: she's this innocent kind of character. The first thing she does when she enters the stage is tell a ghost story, and she believes it's true. She`s just trying to freak out her maid who is hanging out with her. And She's in love with this guy that she's not supposed to be with and that's really exciting. She's also really afraid of what her brother might do if he found out.”
The story, which revolves around the title character being promised to one man, even as she has given her heart to someone else. has a lot of dimensions, taking in everything from sacrifices we make for our families, to how society and the church shape our morals, to the limits to which a person can be pushed before they lose control.
There's a lot of dramatic content for the singers to portray, but they also have brilliant and complex music to perform, some of it legendary in its difficulty. “The hardest parts in the role for me are the opening aria and the first duet with the tenor,” Oropesa reveals. “That's really the most challenging for the director, as well, for all of us to establish where the characters are coming from. Everybody knows where the characters are going. It’s actually how you set up the beginning that makes the ending more significant. Some directors like to see a crazy Lucia from the get-go: others like a sane one, that way the snap is more dramatic. I prefer it that way."
Viewed through a modern lens, it's easy to understand Lucia, a girl who clings to the fairytale future she wants so badly, only to have reality intrude in the guise of a family that has a very different outcome in mind for her.
It culminates in one of the most famous and startling scenes in all of opera: Lucia's rapid plunge into madness. Though there is some room vocally for how a singer approaches this moment, Oropesa sticks to the score for guidance. “Donizetti is a genius and the mad scene is absolutely perfectly written. There are all these weird turnarounds and scales that aren't quite right: they start on an unusual note, the intervals and instrumentation are strange. I learned it exactly as it's written, and just put in the cadenzas that work for my voice."
With a repertoire that includes everything from Gilda in Rigoletto (which she performed for Arizona Opera in 2008), Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro and Woglinde in the Ring cycle, it's clear that her voice is able to create a vast array of sonic paintings. with many colors and themes.
She credits her musically inclined parents with instilling in her a love for singing, but also the determination to succeed. “I've been blessed in my life because I was born into an incredible family. We emigrated from Cuba and there was no silver spoon anywhere near my mouth. It was like a plastic spoon that was kind of broken on one side.” she says with a laugh. “They came here to offer a better life to me and my two sisters. We grew up being taught that anything you want you can have. but you have to work hard."
Her discipline extends off the stage, too. She is a long-distance runner, and a vegan who does much of the cooking for herself and her fiancé Steven Harris. “I'm the greatest curry-maker you'll ever meet." she jokes joyfully.
At press time she was enjoying a break from performing that allowed her to do things like get up at 6a.m. to run (“You can’t do that when you're singing: you'll never make it to the end of the night.") But she was eagerly anticipating a return to Tucson and performing Lucia di Lammermoor.
“All the roles in Lucia are very beautiful, and they all require the entire framework of singing - everything from technical prowess to dramatic ability to emotional depth." she sums up. “It’s a really rewarding piece to do when you have a good cast and a great production. It can really be very special." TCC Music Hall. 293-4336. www.azopera.org