Lisette Oropesa speaks with Rossini America about her upcoming ROF debut

Those who have seen Lisette Oropesa perform or have read the many laudatory reviews she has garnered, know she is one of the brightest stars of the opera world. It is very exciting to have her performing at the Rossini Opera Festival this August.

At her Royal Opera House debut, Lisette’s performance of Lucia had the Guardian exclaiming, “[T]he Cuban American soprano is sensationally good. She makes the stratospheric vocal fireworks of her mad scene – accompanied by flute this time, not glass harmonica – sound easy; indeed, her every note is part of a convincing portrayal of a complex character.” Her Violetta at Opera Philadelphia had Philadelphia Magazine saying, “The name on everybody’s lips is gonna be Lisette Oropesa … or, at least, she’s the name on everybody’s lips who sat through Friday night’s opening performance of Opera Philadelphia’s La Traviata.” And then the review gets even more glowing.

Lisette will be performing at the ROF as the title role in Adina on August 12th, 15th, 18th, and the 21st. Her concert at the Teatro Rossini on August 14th is also not to be missed.

Lisette was gracious enough to grant an interview with Rossini America when she was performing in Hansel and Gretel at the Metropolitan Opera this past winter. Like the music of Rossini and Donizetti, talking with Lisette is a delight –  quick, rapidfire, thrilling, brilliant, dancing, thoughtful, and with a wonderful sense of humor.

With Lucia a singer might have ten or more recordings for inspiration or different approaches, for Rossini’s Adina you don’t have that. Does that make it more difficult to learn? Or can that make it more liberating because you don’t have the overhead of other people’s interpretations?

I don’t actually use a lot of recordings as a crutch. I’m very much a book learner. I research the opera after I’ve started looking at the score. In other words, I begin from the music and then I go from there. Unless it’s a role that’s like Violetta, or even Lucia, because the roles are based on major literary works. And so in the case of Traviata I really did read the book. And I went head-first into the novel but then the problem was I couldn’t look at the music for months because I was depressed.  Because the music is so beautiful – and the novel was so sad and depressing. I couldn’t even do my work to learn my music. I kind of learned my lesson from that.

So I try to go music first – especially with a piece by Rossini where it’s all in the score, it’s all there for you. I read it with a piano or whatever. I clunk out my notes. I read through the libretto. I read through the text. I start there. If there are recordings that are kind of the big major recordings, of course, I enjoy them but it’s not how I learn my music.

So I try to go music first – especially with a piece by Rossini where it’s all in the score, it’s all there for you. I read it with a piano or whatever. I clunk out my notes. I read through the libretto. I read through the text. I start there. If there are recordings that are kind of the big major recordings, of course, I enjoy them but it’s not how I learn my music.

So yes, it’s actually kind of nice there aren’t 80,000 recordings out there and somebody going, “Well you know, you should do this cadenza that Sutherland did. ” “And oh but the other Cadenza that Sills did is so much better” and “Oh you should do what Callas does here!” You know what I’m saying? That is out of the picture and that’s nice.

Is this the first time you’ve sung a Rossini opera professionally?

No. I have sung Il Turco in Italia professionally. I studied Barbiere in college and sung Rosina in college. That’s the only other Rossini I’ve done. I’ve never done any of his oratorios either. So this is kind of relatively fresh territory. But I do study a lot of bel canto in general. They always lump together the three bel canto composers. Although I think they’re all ridiculously different and you can tell them all apart when you listen to them.

Rossini has specific things that are unique to him. It feels fresh. It’s fresh territory for me.

What strikes you as the difference between Donizetti and Rossini?

Well Donizetti sounds like….. 9 times out of 10 when you listen to a Verdi opera, especially a bel canto style Verdi opera, you go “That sounds like Donizetti”! So Donizetti came first. Donizetti was the master that pushed towards what Verdi then developed on musically. The structure of the line, the vocal line. The vocal line tends to be very long. The characters have an arc to them. That kind of thing.

Rossini is much more of the coloratura and fioratura which take the most, I think, dramatic importance. More than the legato line. Of course this isn’t true for every Rossini opera but it seems to me, that the more Rossini operas the more you listen to, it’s just more notes. It’s simply more notes. More cadenzas. More high-flying type of coloratura that is extremely difficult. And so that’s why you have a lot more specialized singers singing Rossini.

Then Bellini is kind of the opposite where I feel like Bellini has… the full lyricism, the super-long lines, and much less coloratura. There is coloratura in Bellini but its much less, it’s more in the long line.

Donizetti is kind of in the middle. Rossini wrote many notes. Bellini wrote fewer notes. And Donizetti’s just in the middle of the two. It’s like the story of goldilocks.

Are there any Rossini singers from the past that you admire?

I certainly admire Rossini singers even of today, more than anything. I feel like Rossini today has become… there’s a lot more respect for Rossini and how it should be performed.

And people treat Rossini with great care. I think that’s wonderful. I think that for years people have been doing that with Mozart, people have been doing that with Handel. There are conductors and singers that really specialize in Rossini. For example, Joyce DiDonato – who I just heard sing a fabulous  Semiramide at the Royal Opera House. And I listen to Joyce over the years, how she’s honed her technique and made Rossini very, very special.

And people like Larry Brownlee who are also extraordinary Rossini singers. I mean you know Juan Diego. I could list a bunch of people. They make it respectable and it’s not just about showcasing the voice. Of course it’s always about the showcasing the voice. They make it also about showcasing the genius of the composition. It’s not so easy to compose so many notes. I mean i feel that way when I read through Bach. There’s a million notes in Bach. How the hell did you come up with all these melodies and harmonic ideas with so many notes and they all make sense? I find that unbelievable. It has that kind of style that there’s lot of notes but there’s a core to that. It should be treated with care and it takes great expertise to sing really well.

In a lot of ways I’m kind of nervous to sing in Pesaro because I know they expect a very high level of specialization in that repertoire. I’m a lyric coloratura. I sing coloratura rep. I don’t consider myself a “Rossinian”. I’m going to do my best to bring what I with bel canto to the role.

I feel that Rossini takes years and years to really master.

You have a recital at the Teatro Rossini. What’s your approach about deciding what to perform?

My problem is – I’m very… I’m a libra. I’m balanced. I try to find balance. I would never do an entire concert of just bel canto. Or just Mozart. It’s very hard to get me to do that. I’m a buffet singer. I sample a little of this and sample a little of that. Because I feel there’s a lot of things my voice does well and I’d like to explore them in one evening. And I love all the different languages and everything.

So I’m going to have to narrow down from all the stuff that I like, to what would be the most enjoyable over the course of an evening.

Rossini in school was called “The Little German” because he spent so much time studying Mozart and Haydn. When you sing Rossini’s music do you notice the Mozart and Haydn influence?

Yes! Because I feel like there’s a period where Mozart wrote too many notes and got in trouble for that. We’re so lucky as coloratura singers that we get to do this. And not all the singers have the chance to play with so much coloratura. When you’re a coloratura singer and you sing all these different composers who really like to write a lot of notes, it’s not just a mastery of getting all the notes in, because you have to get them all in there. It’s finding a reason for them to exist. Other than there’s 16 notes on the page and this is what you have to do.

Find an expressive reason to sing them and to sing them beautifully and find how to color them. Not only is is it a technical thing but it means something. When I study Mozart and I study Handel or I study bel canto or any kind of coloratura repertoire, I always come with the exact same training which is, “Find the reason behind the note.” The composer wrote it for a reason. It wasn’t just because it was stylistically cool do to this. I mean, sure it was stylistically cool to do it but there’s always more behind it because you’re playing a character. Coloratura means it comes from the heart, it comes from the guts, it comes from whatever, and so that’s one thing nice when you’re a coloratura singer, you get to figure that out and play with that.

“Find the reason behind the note.” The composer wrote it for a reason. It wasn’t just because it was stylistically cool do to this. I mean, sure it was stylistically cool to do it but there’s always more behind it because you’re playing a character. Coloratura means it comes from the heart, it comes from the guts, it comes from whatever, and so that’s one nice thing when you’re a coloratura singer, you get to figure that out and play with that.

Have you been to Pesaro before and if you haven’t, what do you think Pesaro is like?

I think Pesaro is by the sea. Italians love to tell me, “Oh you get to see the sea!” They love the sea. They love the sunshine. Every Italian friend that has been there told me how great Pesaro is.

I assume it’s going to be the most glorious place on earth.

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To find out more about Lisette, the Classic Talk duo of Bing and Dennis have an extended interview where Lisette talks about her background, what it’s like to sing opera, and other topics that may be of interest to opera fans.

Future performances for Lisette include:

Violetta in La Traviata at La Fenice, August 25, 28 and September 5, 8, 13, 16

Adina in L’elisir d’amore at Opéra national de Paris, Oct 25, 30 and Nov 1, 4, 7, 10, 13, 16

For more information, visit https://lisetteoropesa.com/