Soprano Lisette Oropesa is one of the most exciting artists in the world.
At just 34, the New Orleans native has already had a storied career, winning the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions at the age of 22, rising through the ranks of the Met Lindemann Young Artist Program, and then going on to sing at all the major houses around the world, including the Metropolitan Opera, Dutch National Opera, Paris Opera, Washington National Opera, Teatro Real de Madrid, and Santa Fe Opera, among many others.
One major company where she has yet to showcase her incredible talent is the Royal Opera House Covent Garden.
But that is set to change this week when she performs the title role in Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor,” a work she has already made her own over the past few years. The soprano recently spoke to OperaWire about the upcoming debut, as well as her return to the Metropolitan Opera for the first time since 2013.
OperaWire: What excites you most about making this major debut at such a famous house?
Lisette Oropesa: Well I’m incredibly grateful, for starters. I have been studying this role for over 10 years, and have sung it 3 times in very traditional, and beautiful, productions. This time feels completely new. The production requires the title character to be onstage the entire time, and this dramatic choice makes me have to put a new focus on the vocal execution of it. I am finding my way in it with a lot of pleasure, but it is still very challenging. I’ve never had to be onstage 100% of the time in a role this long. It will take all the stamina and concentration I can muster. The London audience is expecting a stellar performance at this historic opera house, and I want to give them the best of my work. So I guess you can say I’m nervous too!
OW: This production has been deemed controversial for its rather explicit content. What’s your take on it? What excites you most about stepping into this particular production of “Lucia?”
LO: I was very lucky to have rehearsed from day one with the director of the production herself, Katie Mitchell. She and I met for coffee over the summer, to talk about her take on the character and why Katie chose to focus on the complete arc of the story so graphically. It is very important for me, when I study a role musically, to have as much information and “bookwork” done as possible. So why not apply the same principles to the dramatic aspect of it? Because Katie is such an incredible director, I had the privilege of her being able to make adjustments that suited me personally. This means that some of the staging has changed from the original production, and without giving too much away, I feel that it’s fair to say that the most controversial parts have been reworked. Also, the conductor, and all of my colleagues in this production, except for one, are new artists for me to collaborate with. This has been wonderful, as we have been able to build fresh relationships and get to know each other and inspire each other along the way. It is an incredible team of singers and actors, and maestro Michele Mariotti has been amazing.
OW: How has the role of “Lucia” changed since you first took it on? What in particular about it makes it such an exciting role for you to interpret? What are your favorite musical moments? What are some aspects of the role that you want to develop further?
LO: Each time I sing a role it feels new, for sure, and the biggest change for me has been the fact that I’m onstage non stop. That means no resting time to sit in my dressing room and prepare the next scene. However, we have made some musical cuts that make this much easier for the soprano. For example, only one verse of Raimondo’s aria, and a big part of the big wedding scene finale has been taken out. That used to tax me greatly and now it’s more manageable. Vocally I feel that I have grown a lot as well; some of the parts that used to challenge me terribly now feel like they are within my reach, such as the final high E flat at the end of the flute cadenza. I always used to take it down an octave but lately, I have been making it happen. Knock on wood…we keep it that way! Also the fact that I’ve sung it onstage before several times gives me much more confidence that I will have the stamina for it. I’d like to continue to grow into the role dramatically of course, but really this is something that comes with experience, and every production is different, so that will come with time.
OW: And what are your favorite recordings/interpreters of Lucia and why?
LO: My favorite Lucia of all time is Callas, because of the vocal colors and fearlessness in her interpretation. I also adore recordings of Scotto. She basically taught me the role when I was a young artist and gave me so much dramatic insight I could never thank her enough. Moffo’s beautiful haunting sound is one I often aspire to, Sutherland for her incomparable vocal acrobatics…all the greats! I could name several more.
When I was a young artist at the Met, Natalie Dessay was doing the new production, and I watched her in rehearsals onstage and cried and cried. Her vulnerability made me dream. It’s amazing how many sopranos have made this role their own. Every soprano who sings it brings something special and in that aspect, it is one of the best roles ever written.
OW: You return to the Met this fall with Hansel and Gretel for the first time since “Werther.” How do you feel you’ve grown as an artist since then?
LO: Every time I walk into the Met for a coaching, I feel like I did 10 years ago. It’s hard to believe so much time has passed since I was a Lindemann young artist. But the Met is my home house, it’s where I learned how to work, how to practice, it’s where I got the inspiration on a daily basis to continue in this field. Have I grown as an artist? Of course. But it still feels like home to me.
OW: With regards to this particular opera, “Hansel and Gretel,” what drew you to the role and what are you hoping to discover in this production at the Met?
LO: I did the production when it was new and I played the Dew Fairy. I loved the production even then, because not only was the cast phenomenal, the production was to me, groundbreaking. I used to cry at the big banquet scene dream sequence. I remember Richard Jones’s words about these kids just dreaming of food, that was all they wanted, they were just so hungry. It broke my heart. It’s something we take for granted, I think, sometimes in life…first world problems. I remember Sasha Cooke was the Sandman, and she described how the trees that pick the character up and put him down are his family, that the forest is one with the Sandman. That touched me deeply as well. And the late, great Philip Langridge was the witch, and I used to marvel at his improvising dialogue between the musical lines, to play with as he tormented the kids. What an actor, what an artist. He inspired me a lot. I can’t wait to go into this production again.
OW: You recently introduced a video segment to your newsletter. Where did the idea come from? Why was it important for you to create this format for communication with fans? And why and how should opera singers today use social media?
LO: Well my husband, who does all my newsletters had the idea that we should incorporate all the fun footage we could to try and bring people into our experience as we live this incredibly unique lifestyle. I’m sure a newsletter of me just talking in front of the camera can be pretty boring. But seeing bits and pieces of the real life, and incorporating some of the singing we record during rehearsals, I think is just more interesting. Everyone uses social media in a different way, and it’s true it’s hard to keep up with the changes sometimes and hard to represent accurately. I mean, Instagram for instance, is for photographs and now short videos…which is new and useful. You can’t capture the voice with a photograph. Or a tweet. Theatre needs to be a flesh and blood experience, and opera is best heard live. But we use social media as a way to connect with fans because I do love to share what I do. I am lucky to have lots of support and I get messages every day from fans, young singers, etc. As long as I’m able, I personally respond to each and every one. Social media helps me give back and for that reason, I am glad to use it.