Our 2016 Season kicks off with a semi-staged production of La traviata, Verdi’s heartbreaking masterpiece, on May 13 and 15 in collaboration with the Oratorio Society of Virginia. Who better to bring the tragic heroine Violetta to life than Cecilia Violetta Lopez, who, in addition to her fateful middle name, has performed the role throughout the country and was named one of the 25 Rising Stars of opera by Opera News last year. Below, Cecilia discusses her affinity for the role, her recent successes, and her incredible journey from Idaho to the Met’s stage. And make sure not to miss her in La traviata — tickets are on sale now!
Violetta has become a signature role for you — with performances of La traviata at Virginia Opera, Opera Idaho, and Opera Tampa. What draws you to this role, and what are her particular challenges and rewards?
I love performing Violetta because of the sincerity of the role. She is such a real person; she is a self-sacrificing woman who suffers both physically and emotionally in the story. Who can’t relate or be moved by that? I believe the fact that Violetta is so real is what makes the role challenging for me—I let myself become her by feeling her pain, her love, by having gone through similar, if not the same, hardships Violetta goes through. She’s so real. There is no other explanation to her and her story. As challenging as I say letting myself become so vulnerable may be, it is also the most rewarding experience for me because, again, of how REAL the story is; it is that “realness” and sincerity that keeps audiences glued and moved by the magic of the story and music. Lastly, my teacher, Diana Soviero, made her career singing Violetta all over the world. She has changed my life and has had so much patience in teaching me what she knows and to know that there is a possibility of me following my teacher’s footsteps with this role is not only rewarding but such a tremendous honor that words fail to explain how much that means to me.
Are you looking forward to performing the role again with Rolando Sanz, who was your Alfredo at Virginia Opera?
I AM!! Rolando and I became dear friends! Every rehearsal was loaded with fun, magic, and a lot of crying (for me, anyway). He’s such a great singer, performer, a great dad, husband and, as I previously mentioned, a great — and super supportive — friend.
Last year, you were named one of “25 Rising Stars” by Opera News and worked at the Metropolitan Opera. What were those experiences like?
It’s still so crazy to me to know that those things happened—and very recently! What an honor to be on that list and on the Met Opera roster—total dreams come true. Opera stars that are on my iPod are now my colleagues; it’s so crazy to think about!
You are from a Mexican-American family and grew up in Idaho. Tell us about your journey from learning Mariachi music from your mother to becoming an opera star. Did your parents give you the middle name Violetta because they had a premonition about your future career?
My upbringing was a very humble one. My family and I didn’t have much when I was growing up. We just had the essentials: love, health to work, and each other. When I became of age, I started hoeing beets in the summers with my mom and my older brother to help make extra money for the family. That said, I might have been “of age” to work in the fields, but my mom had me and my brother out in the fields with her since I was 6 months old. So, in essence, that was life for us. We knew no other way; just work and school. It was in those beet fields where my mom planted the musical seed in me by teaching me Ranchera songs/Mariachi music she was taught and grew up with. We spent long hours in those beet fields, so music became not only a good bonding experience for me and mom, it helped time go by fast!
Singing with live mariachi bands was something I did with the support of my mother. I think when I say I used to sing with mariachi bands, people have an image of me singing on a regular basis and getting paid to sing with the bands. This is definitely NOT the case. It was not that glamorous! I only sang with the bands IF they were playing at weddings, rodeos or quinceañera parties and IF I happened to be present at said festivities. My mother also had to be around because she was the one who would gently “force” me to sing a song or two with the bands. My mom is the best! Opera didn’t become something I was interested in until my second year of formal music training at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. I started school a little later than most people; I was older (23), already had my daughter, and was working a full-time job in the medical field in addition to everything I had going on at school.
It wasn’t until I saw the school production of La bohème my first year at UNLV that I fell in love with opera. It was also the first opera I had ever been to and I remember being so moved by the story of Mimi: how, despite her poverty, she loved Rodolfo so much, and how she died in the end, losing her “happy ever after.” I was an emotional mess and wanted more of what I witnessed. I was a music education major at the time, but after seeing La bohème, I auditioned three times, three different semesters, and was finally allowed to have vocal performance as a second major. To make a long story short, I graduated with only one degree (vocal performance) after realizing that being a teacher wasn’t for me. Thankfully, Opera San Jose hired me right after graduating from UNLV and I have been singing, traveling, making new friends and incredible memories since then.
My middle name, Violetta, was an accident. My parents wanted the women in our family to have a flower name as their middle names. So, when I was born, I was named after my paternal grandfather, Cecilio, and the flower (also the color) Violeta (spelled with one T in Spanish) was selected to be my middle name. However, my dad misspelled my middle name and used the Italian spelling (Violetta), and that is what I’ve had on my birth certificate since day one. So there was definitely no premonition; just a simple, coincidental mistake. It’s a good story, though. Added bonus, my little sister’s middle name is Azucena; the gypsy in Verdi’s Il trovatore. My mother really liked the majestic look of the giant, red flowers in her patio in our home in Mexico. I don’t think my parents know yet that there is another Verdi-opera-connection to my sister’s middle name.