Last year Lisette Oropesa had one of the most successful years breaking out in the opera world and signaling a new star. The soprano was a sensation in “Lucia di Lammermoor” at the Teatro Real and made stepped in last minute in “Les Huguenots” at the Opera de Paris and opened the Teatro dell’opera di Roma season. She also announced her Teatro alla Scala debut latter this summer. Since then she has continued to make role and house debuts wowing audiences and critics alike.
And now she will be honored as the 2019 Richard Tucker Award winner this fall.
The Cuban-American soprano spoke with OperaWire about winning the prestigious award and what it means to take it home in a year where she returns to the Metropolitan Opera in two lead roles.
OperaWire: What does winning the Richard Tucker Award mean to you?
Lisette Oropesa: It’s synonymous with American opera and I feel like the Richard Tucker Foundation has a strong name in the psyche of every American opera singer because we all audition for the Tucker Award. I won the Sarah Tucker Grant and I won the Richard Tucker Grant in 2009. I have known everybody at the Foundation for many years and they have been an influence on my operatic life.
OW: What did you feel when you received the news of your win?
LO: I was kind of surprised to be nominated for the big award this year. I thought I was too old for it and far gone for it because I haven’t really sung too much in the States in the past couple of years. I have sung so much in Europe these past few years. It’s unexpected and I am so grateful that it happens when I am returning back to the Metropolitan Opera for two big roles.
OW: Speaking of returning to the Met Opera, those two big roles will be in “Manon” and “La Traviata.” What does it feel like to come back to New York City for this gala and for these two roles?
LP: It’s a huge deal. It’s like a trip around Disney World. I had already invited my family to come see “Manon” in HD. It was going to be a nice weekend in New York for my family and it was already exciting. And now we have the perfect weekend with the “Manon” broadcast and then there is the Tucker gala on Sunday. It’s going to be like Magic Kingdom on Saturday and Epcot on Sunday. For any opera singer it’s a huge privilege and I am honored.
And as I think about that big weekend, I wonder what will I be able to sing the day after “Manon.” I don’t know yet because I have never sung the role and I know it’s quite tough. So I am nervous to do both in two days.
In addition, to come back and sing these two roles, which are essentially sister roles, is a huge privilege. The roles are very related and the stories are similar. Even though people will have there opinions, I don’t feel like there is anyone who is not excited about it. All I have gotten are messages of tremendous support and encouragement. I’ve had people write to me saying how much they miss me and can’t wait to have me back. And that means the world to me.
OW: You performed at one of the Richard Tucker Galas years before. Tell me about that experience?
LP: I performed in it years ago and it always felt like a glamorous evening. It was like the OPERA NEWS awards, which was like the Oscars for opera. I sang twice and I was like wow. When you’re still young and singing in a concert with Anna Netrebko, Bryn Terfel, Lawrence Brownlee, Renée Fleming and you are a young artist, you feel extremely privileged to be there. I am still in shock about winning this award and all I hope is that I can sing to the best of my ability and that people enjoy my performance.
OW: As a Latin American, what does it mean to you to win this award?
LP: It’s a huge thing because my family came here on a boat and nowadays there is a whole movement to cut immigration down. I would have never been up for this award if I had not been born in this country and if my family had not come over to give us a better life. So I feel as an American and my career is mostly in Europe, I represent the United States. Sometimes I am the only American in a cast and I have to deliver at the same level as a European. I never forget that when I am in Europe I am representing a culture that is a multicultural society. In some ways, I am living the American dream because my family came to the U.S. to prosper. In Cuba they were not prospering, so when I won this award the first thing I thought about was my family. I invited them immediately because for them, this is so important.
OW: Although you didn’t expect the award, last year you made triumphant role debuts and company debuts at the Teatro Real, Opéra de Paris, and Royal Opera House and you are about to make your Teatro alla Scala debut. Would you say this award is a bit of a culmination of those successes?
LP: It’s the star on the Christmas tree. It was already a beautiful Christmas tree and now it has star. I was already happy with all the successes. And after winning this award I was thinking that every engagement I have done like this last “Robert le Diable” in my Brussels debut and I was thinking of all the pressure because they were new productions or house debuts. So I am very grateful to have been honored after the amounts of pressure that has come with all these new houses and roles. Sometimes you have doubts that it might come crashing down because you can not be a tremendous success all the time. But so far it has been amazing and the Tucker Award is a tremendous gift and a bit of a milestone.
OW: After all these successes and this award, what is next for Lisette Oropesa?
LP: There are many years ahead and I feel like this is the beginning. Although I’ve been singing for 10 years, I feel like this is a first phase and I feel like I would like to make a home run and go as far as the world is willing to take me. If it means that I sing for another 10 or 15 years, I just want to keep bringing music and that is all I have ever wanted and loved to do. I’ve also never been so happy in my life, even without the awards. The awards are great, but I am just happy making music and moving people.