Lisette Oropesa (left) as Cleopatra in Handel's "Giulio Cesare" at the Michigan Opera Theatre (Photo : Michigan Opera Theatre)
Soprano Lisette Oropesa never wanted to be an opera singer. Despite being born into a family that venerated the art form, she felt the need to seek out a different path. However, she could not escape her fate. And now she is a rising star that gets to call the world's most renowned opera house "home."
On Saturday, April 13, the 29-year old soprano returns to the Metropolitan Opera house for the revival of the company's new "Rigoletto" production; it will be the first time that Oropesa takes on the noted Verdi role at the famous house. Since her debut in a minor role in "Idomeneo" back in 2006, the soprano has returned to the Met each season to perform major roles in such works as "Le Nozze Di Figaro," "La Rondine," "Hansel and Gretel," "The Enchanted Island," and "Orfeo ed Uridice."
"The Met is my home opera. I feel like I grew up here. This is where I received the bulk of my operatic training [at the Lindemann Young Artist Program]," Oropesa said during a conversation in New York in March. "I think the Met is the most beautiful place on earth. Whenever I go sing in other places I often find myself missing the Met because it is such a luxurious experience in so many ways that we don't really get everywhere else in the world."
"The Met takes a lot of pride in the people they hire to work there. Everyone from the pianists to the conductors. The level of education of the people that work there is brilliant. Everyone that works there speaks a dozen languages. Everyone there is a fabulous pianist," she marveled.
Oropesa will become the second soprano to try out the new Rigoletto production by Michael Mayer; Diana Damrau performed its initial run. The production, set in 1960s Los Vegas received solid reviews (including from Latinos Post) for its insightful design and faithfulness to Verdi's libretto.
"I think it's fascinating and I think a lot of elements that they put into the new production are very relevant in a traditional take of the opera," said Oropesa about the Rigoletto production. "I don't think they went too far out of the box to make it unrealistic."
The soprano adds that the role of Gilda is one of the more challenging in her current repertoire.
"Gilda is more of a sprint. It's more condensed [than other roles] but has more intensity," she notes about singing the Verdi heroine. "It's kind of doing a heavy weight workout in circuits."
In addition to performing the role of Gilda, Oropesa will return to the role of the forest bird in Robert Lepage's production of Wagner's "Siegfried." This is the third straight season that the singer will be involved in the Met's new Ring Cycle and she noted that her involvement in the first work, "Das Rheingold," is among her career highlights. Back on opening night in 2010, Oropesa was suddenly asked to step into the role of Woglinde the Rhinemaiden in the premiere of Lepage's production for "Das Rheingold." What Oropesa didn't realize was that she would be asked to do something she had never been trained for: sing while being suspended in midair. As the opera commences, the production's 24 planks rotate to lift the three maidens into the air in order to emulate the idea of swimming; the singers' only support is a harness.
"It was pretty scary," Oropesa recalled. "I never rock climbed so I didn't have a lot of experience."
Even though she eventually got the hang of being suspended in midair, she noted that the fear never went away. "It's still frightening. You might trust in the harness that time but the next time you do it, your body freaks out again and you have to calm yourself down again. Eventually you have to pretend that it's not there," Oropesa added.
While she will not be singing "Rheingold" this season, Oropesa did admit to being involved with the production in a new capacity - as a mentor. Oropesa revealed that the singers taking on the gargantuan task of floating at the start of the opera have called her for advice.
"We are not trained to do these kinds of feats," she stated. "We are the only ones singing and doing acrobatic things at the same time."
Oropesa's rise in the opera world is rather swift by most standards, but the soprano expressed during the conversation that she never had intentions of entering into it.
Her grandfather, a Cuban immigrant, was a passionate opera fan who recorded every Met broadcast while her mother, Rebeca Oropesa, was an opera singer by profession. However, she eventually gave up the performing career to take care of her children and dedicated herself to teaching voice.
It was her mother who told a young Lisette that she had a wonderful voice and should consider taking up a career as a performer. However, the soprano had set her sights on being a flautist.
"I wanted to do something different. I wanted to find my own path. I didn't want to be boxed into the obvious path of the family business," Oropesa noted. "But sometimes you can't deny your destiny."
Her destiny was to audition for the voice faculty at Louisiana State University and be told that she "had" to sing. After that, the only direction was up.
In 2005, Oropesa won the Metropolitan Opera's National Council Auditions and was promptly invited to join the Lindemann Young Artists program where she studied until 2008.
Oropesa explained that her training in the Met's program was a three-year deal that included intense vocal and language instruction in the first year as well as a strict mandate that students attend all final dress rehearsals at the Met. In the second year, the students got a chance to start working as covers and small roles in the house's production. It was during this year of the program that Oropesa made her Met debut in "Idomeneo." The third year built on the intense work load of the first two but included a solo recital and more involvement with finding management.
"Being a young artist is being at the Met 24/7," she emphasized. "They know who you are. There's no hiding. "
Despite her tremendous success in New York, Oropesa has slowly built up an equally impressive international career. Aside from performing at other notable opera houses around the United States, Oropesa has made debuts at the Opera Bilbao (2010), Deutsche Oper am Rhein (2010), the Bayerische Staatsoper (2011), and the Welsh National Opera (2010). In 2007, Oropesa also won third prize in the Operalia competition and also received an award in the competition's Zarzuela category.
After her Met performances, Oropesa will be heading to Santa Fe Opera to reprise the role of Susanna in "Le Nozze Di Figaro." She will sing a total of eight performances spanning from late June through August.
Once September hits, Oropesa will take a break from the operatic stage to engage in one of her beloved activities: singing concerts. On September 22, the soprano will give a concert performance of the rare Verdi gem "I Masnadieri" with the Washington Concert Opera and in October she will join the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana."
"Opera takes up a lot of time. And concerts are short," she remarked. "If and when you get them, grab them because they're so much fun."
Oropesa returns to the Met next season for two more Met role debuts in new productions of Verdi's "Falstaff" and Massenet's "Werther." From December through January she takes on the role of Nannetta in Robert Carson's new take on Verdi's final masterwork and in February she gets a chance to sing Sophie in "Werther."
"Rigoletto" runs for six performances from April 13 until May 1. Oropesa will sing "Siegfried" on April 20, 29, and May 8.