“My parents worked as laborers in the fields near Rupert, Idaho. We kids worked alongside them. Mom would sing as she worked, so I guess you could say I was brought up to sing.” – Cecilia Violetta LópezBorn and raised in Idaho to Mexican parents, Opera San José’s new resident soprano Cecilia Violetta López discovered her passion for music as a young child when she was first introduced to mariachi music by her mother. Her parents still live in the south central Idaho town where her mother now runs her own restaurant. Cecilia started teaching herself to play the piano as a young child and formal piano instruction began at the age of ten. She became accomplished enough as a pianist to play in her church, and while in high school, she sang with local mariachi bands.
After graduating from high school, she moved to Las Vegas and began her work in the medical field. She got a job as an orthopaedic assistant. “I took out stitches, rolled casts, scheduled surgeries, that sort of thing.” But music eventually called her. On scholarship, she attended the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, majoring in music education and vocal performance, but when she was student teaching she realized “teaching was not for me, singing was.” Studying mainly under the tutelage of Dr. Tod Fitzpatrick, Cecilia matriculated from UNLV with a Bachelors of Music in Vocal Performance.
While at UNLV López performed in her first opera singing Nella in Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi. “I am excited to now get to sing Lauretta in that same opera,” she said. During her years at UNLV, Cecilia performed roles including Pamina (The Magic Flute), Poppea (L’incoronazione di Poppea), Gasparina (La Canterina), Kate Pinkerton (Madama Butterfly) and Micaëla (Carmen).
López chose to pursue a degree in vocal performance and she admits studying for her chosen field was intense. It included serious language preparation, mostly in Italian, French and German. Ms. López’ additional training included traveling to Austria where she was a student in the American Institute of Musical Studies. There she concentrated on vocal training, learning the German language and participated in master classes with Patricia Craig and Gabriele Lechner. Ms. López furthered her training while attending the Hawai’i Performing Arts Festival working alongside mezzo-soprano, Juliana Gondek. She continues lessons once a week with a teacher in San Francisco.
It was during her studies in the Hawai’i Performing Arts Festival in Kamuela, Hawai’i where López met former OSJ resident baritone Krassen Karagiozov. Krassen later informed her that the company was auditioning for new artists and she should audition. López is now thrilled to be one of OSJ’s five new residents. She lives here in San José, while her husband and daughter remain in Las Vegas. “We Skype often, so that helps, and they visit me as often as they can. My husband and daughter are both very supportive.” she said.
Her daughter Sara already has stage experience. She was in the Children’s Chorus in UNLV’s production of Carmen when she was six. “I took her to my rehearsals and finally asked her if she wanted to be in the chorus as soon as I saw that she expressed an interest in being with the other kids in the chorus, so I said okay. She showed remarkable stage presence. Soon she will start taking piano and violin lessons.”
When asked how she prepares for a role, López’s technique involves watching DVDs of the opera she is going to sing and listening to recordings. She studies the plot and reads the background of the libretto, then reads her role in the language she will be singing and translates the words so it makes sense as a dialogue. She works with an accompanist an hour a day in addition to rehearsals, which are generally from 2:30 to 10:00 PM, with a dinner break.
Asked about her favorite singers, López sighed. “It’s a toss-up for sopranos. Leontyne Price or Renee Fleming. I can’t chose. I favor Vittorio Grigolo, an Italian tenor, when it comes to male singers.”
No question about what makes a good singer as far as Cecilia Violetta López is concerned. “Genuine passion and love for the music. A singer who goes through the sacrifice and dedication to learn a role should eventually be able to genuinely communicate the emotions the composer is trying to portray. Music is very powerful and has the ability to move people with beautiful melodies and harmonies. Making music and a character personal can take it one step further and really create an illusion for the listener–pretty soon, language barriers dissappear. If one didn’t have a personal connection with the character, it would just be pretty music, and, as we say in the field, it would be considered a ‘park and bark’ moment.”
“Music should uplift the listener, even “gloomy” music. As a listener I want to be transported to the world the composer or performer take themselves to when they are musically inspired. …when I sing, it’s like all of my emotions come out. What I’m expressing, what I’m feeling, I want everyone, including those in the very back row, to feel.”
López, a Heineke/Montfort Fellow, loves the way the other resident artists are genuinely nice, kind, and welcoming. Preparing a different role for every opera is a challenge she looks forward to. “I am honored to be here.”
Ms. López’s professional accomplishments include the title role in Suor Angelica with Opera San Luis Obispo, a role she will be reprising this season for Opera San José and Zerlina in Don Giovanni with Opera Las Vegas.
Don’t miss Cecilia Violetta López in her debut with Opera San José as Leïla in Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers, opening September 8 at the California Theatre in downtown San José.