Cher Public

Portrait of a lady

There’s hands-on and then there’s hands-on, and the latter was definitely in play in the lobby of the Kaye Playhouse just before Thursday night’s performance of La traviata by the Martina Arroyo Foundation’s Prelude to Performance program. There at the will-call table sat la Arroyo herself, elegantly draped in midnight-blue lace, stuffing envelopes with tickets and fielding questions from patrons. The diva puts on no airs or graces, but there is the indelible stamp of grandezza even in the way she licks an envelope.

Honestly, that sight would have been worth the trip to Hunter College, but it got even better. Singing, or I should say embodying the title role of Verdi’s opera was a captivating young soprano named Cecilia Violetta Lopez; and “Violetta” is her middle name figuratively as well as literally. When you see a lot of opera, you are constantly hearing sopranos about whom you say, “she could make a fine Violetta” along with some sort of conditional clause attached like “if she could clean up her coloratura” or “if she would try using a little more chest voice” or “if someone could show her how to ‘sparkle’ onstage.” Ms. Lopez needs no such polishing: she ia a Violetta fully-formed and, I think, ready for the great stages of the world.

The voice is a cool, shimmering lyric soprano with an extension to a bright, pingy high E-flat as well as plenty of agility for “Sempre libera.” But it’s the legato singing that makes her special: the voice just flows like spring water. The top blooms attractively on B-flat and C and she can shade the high A-naturals of “Addio del passato” expertly.

She acts with energy and a great musicality; that is, her movement all seems motivated by the precise momentary emotion evoked by the music. Even more to the point, she knows how to be “brilliant” in the first act party scene, flitting and fluttering with a stylized grace that would make Jeanette MacDonald green with envy. She “melts” gorgeously in the second act, her body language now demure, and she manages to be ill and weak and yet at the same time hopeful in the final act.

The production is ultra-traditional, which is I think a good thing in this kind of program; at least it will let the singers know what it is they are rebelling against when they get out into the real world. That Ms. Lopez looks absolutely at home with crinolines and sausage curls and little birdlike hand gestures doesn’t discourage me though: I could just as easily see her in a scarlet cocktail dress high atop a modernistic sofa carried around the room by an army of identical admirers.

Yes, Ms. Lopez stole the show utterly and completely, but it was a show worth stealing: Alfredo (Paul Han) and Germont (Robert Kerr) both wielded solid, well-schooled voiced, and the show as a whole boasted a level of musical precision and dramatic detail that should make conductor Daniel Lipton and stage director Laura Alley very proud indeed. The orchestra and production values for this Traviata may be modest, but the dedication and taste that inform it are to be cherished.

Photo: Jen Joyce Davis.

  • grimoaldo

    I would certainly rather see and hear this soprano who elicits such raves on every aspect of her performance than either of the two (the first a bore,and the second a fraud) scheduled to perform it at the Met next season and again it shows that the a lot of the best current performances of operas tend to be with “up and coming” young singers rather than “booked five years ahead” “stars” at the “grand” houses.

  • phoenix

    Felicitaciones y los mejores deseos a la Sra. López!
    2013 San Jose interview:

  • grimoaldo

    Beautiful!

    • CwbyLA

      Wow! Wow! Fantastic.

    • la vociaccia

      Damn………………………………………….

      Now that is the type of singer who should be getting the Tucker Award.

      ..man

  • Chimene

    She has the poise and presence of a Diva… and her voice… just amazing!

  • mercadante

    She’s very gifted vocally and musically, seems to be technically accomplished, and has a very nice stage presence with expressive eyes. A name I will look out for. Here’s hoping she has a bright future.

  • baridave

    Listen to the “Tu,tu,tu…”. In typical modern opera orchestra fashion, the horns, trombones and tympani are thundering at full throttle, and Sra. Lopez sails right over them…a very exciting voice!

  • armerjacquino

    With Winters and now Lopez it looks as if we’re sorted for Violetta for the next few years, then!

    • Krunoslav

      And Linda Richardson!

      • armerjacquino

        Never heard Richardson. She’d have to be pretty damn good to match Winters though.

    • And I have to put my two cents in praise of one of my favorite recent Violettas:

      I have seen Caballero in 2 different productions and I would travel for a 3rd and 4th.

    • MontyNostry

      And El-Khoury, who had a success in Amsterdam in the Decker production.

  • oedipe

    I suppose that young singers don’t have a lot of choices in terms of repertoire and end up accepting whatever comes their way, but even taking that into account, in the last couple of years Ms. Lopez has sung a highly unusual mix of roles:

    Violetta
    Donna Anna
    Cio-Cio San
    Gretel
    Nannetta
    Suor Angelica
    Lauretta
    Leonora (Trovatore)
    Rosalinde (Fledermaus)
    Lei?la
    Zerlina

    What do Zerlina, Leïla, Suor Angelica, Gretel, Cio Cio San and Violetta have in common in terms of musical style? To the best of my knowledge, even Ermonela Jaho -who sings everything she is offered- has not undertaken Leïla, Gretel and Cio Cio San, all at the same time.

    On another thread, La Cieca was arguing that, in today’s world, singers pay more attention than in the past to the mastery of various musical styles. Ms. Lopez must be a genius indeed, if she has mastered the musical styles needed to do justice to all of these roles.

    • armerjacquino

      Freni sang most of the roles you single out- and wouldn’t have had any trouble with Leila or Gretel, the two I don’t immediately identify with her- so that’s not a bad role model!

      • oedipe

        I am not all that familiar with the Gretels out there, but the bar seems to be set pretty low in terms of today’s Leïlas. So, if by having “no trouble” with the role one means having more or less the notes and conforming to today’s “standards”, then yes, MOST singers would have no trouble with the role (musical style be damned).

        • armerjacquino

          Don’t put words into my mouth. I said that Freni would have no trouble with Leila because she was a highly acclaimed Micaela, Marguerite and Juliette.

        • oedipe

          I am talking about Lopez.

          • armerjacquino

            I made no comment on whether Lopez could sing anything: I’ve never heard her. I was talking about Freni in the light of the rep you listed. Not much I can do if you start responding to points that nobody made.

            • oedipe

              Don’t put words in my mouth and stop responding to my comments.

            • armerjacquino

              What words did I put in your mouth? Extraordinary. You said something about Lopez’s rep, and it struck me that Freni had sung similar stuff. Everything was perfectly civil until you decided to address points I hadn’t made. I mean, it’s all there for everyone to read.

              By the way, I’ll reply to anything I like.

    • la vociaccia

      So it’s Leila, we’re talking about, then? Ok, Cool. Well, she was a resident artist at Opera San Jose, PearlFishers is making big rounds on the regional circuit, and she seems to be a smart musician with a preciously developed voice.

      No, I have absolutely no idea what her French style is like, no, I’m unaware if Opera San Jose had Sabine Devieilhe on speed dial, but typically members of an opera ensemble (as you must surely know, being from Europe) sing a variety of roles they might not normally put on their audition list.

      I’d assume you’ve heard Jaho before, so it should be obvious that the lack of gretels in her schedule has less to do with her stylistic shortcomings and more with the fact that her voice couldn’t sound like a young soubrette even if she became possessed by the ghost of Bidu Sayao.

      Based on the youtube clips, Lopez appears to have a pretty well organized full lyric soprano, so it’s not beyond the pale that she could sing a Gretel and a Cio Cio San (even if it’s a bit dangerous sounding).

      • la vociaccia

        *precociously

      • oedipe

        Anyone can sing whatever the hell they want, especially if they have an audience out there who feels they are great at it.

        But judging by the singers and performances one comes across these days, one cannot pretend that a lot importance is being given to learning different musical styles. On the contrary, I see less and less specificity and differentiation in singing style. It’s one size fits all, NO musical style to speak of in the majority of today’s performances.

    • steveac10

      This repertoire would be pretty typical in any provincial European house over the course of a couple of seasons. At least she’s getting real experience on stage and appears to have the goods to handle it. If she were in the typical young artist program she’s likely be limited to a couple of years of Gianettas and Countess Cepranos. Good on San Jose for actually letting their resident artists sing. A couple of Leonoras in a moderately sized theatre probably does more good for her than harm.

  • MontyNostry

    In that Trovatore excerpt (which sounds a bit big for her, though she sings very nicely), Ms Lopez looks more than a little like Leyla.

  • MontyNostry

    Interestingly, both she and Corinne Winters seem to be pupils of Diana Soviero.

    • armerjacquino

      No wonder they’re good.

    • mercadante

      Winters is yet another AVA graduate. Their track record is getting to be pretty remarkable.

  • MontyNostry

    And here is another new Traviata … recorded in Marseille and praised on the Facebook feed of another youngish soprano who has recently taken Violetta into her rep -- Jessica Pratt. (See, sopranos CAN be generous to their colleagues!)

  • I went to Opera San Jose’s Puccini double bill the other year because a friend was singing one of the sisters in Suor. Lopez is the real deal, a beautiful and expressive voice with terrific spin on top. I’m glad to see that she’s getting attention outside the Bay Area! Will check out the clips when I am on a higher-bandwidth connection than just now.