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Cecilia Violetta Lopez—From Hoeing Potatoes to Singing Sensation
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Cecilia Violetta Lopez, who was appointed as Opera Idaho’s first Artistic Advisor earlier this year, will perform tonight with pianist Nathan Salazar, who serves on the voice faculty at Boston conservatory at Berklee. COURTESY: Opera Idaho
   
Tuesday, September 14, 2021
 

BY KAREN BOSSICK

She’s performed with The Metropolitan Opera and on stages from Belgium to Las Vegas. She’s been named one of Idaho’s Top 10 Most Influential Women of the Century by USA Today and one of opera’s “25 Rising Stars” by Opera News.

 She’s featured in two Idaho state museums. And she’s been praised for her “alluring voice and incredible range’ by the Washington Post and by the New York Times for her “passionate performance” that served as “the beating heart” of a different “Otello.”

But ask soprano Cecilia Violetta Lopez to recount a standout moment in her life and she is quick to point to her first live performance since the pandemic before a crowd in the historic Wilson Theatre in Rupert, Idaho.

“We had no idea what to expect,” said the Rupert native.  “We hadn't done recital work in so long, and it was our first live performance to a crowd who doesn't necessarily listen to classical music, like me.  But we had two sold out performances that weekend!  It was incredible! 

“I loved seeing the eyes of actual people in the audience behind their masks. And I loved singing for people that I knew... sharing with my community and my family what this Rupert girl had learned out in the big world. It's a memory I will cherish forever.”

Lopez will get a chance to charm the Sun Valley crowd when she performs at 6:30 p.m. tonight—Tuesday, Sept. 14—at The Argyros Performing Arts Center in Ketchum. Tickets start at $50, available at https://theargyros.org/calendar/cecilia-violetta-lopez/

Lopez had been on tap to perform at The Argyros just as the pandemic began shutting down theaters around the world, and she can’t wait to finally get on stage in a concert co-sponsored by Sun Valley Opera and Idaho Opera.

(She will star in the title role of Opera Idaho’s “Merry Widow” at the Morrison Center—the opera’s first mainstage opera production in more than a year—in October.)

“The performance will be an intimate, formal recital of art songs: songs by Italian, German, Russian, and Spanish composers.  We are, essentially, taking things back to our training,” she said. “As aspiring musicians, we all had to perform recitals as part of our degrees.  Recital work is an artform that isn't done too often these days.  

“Though we will be performing standard classical repertoire, the second half of the program is titled ‘Mi mundo’ or ‘My World’ where I get to share the music that I grew up with, bridging the Spanish and English songs that filled the airwaves in one way or another during my upbringing in Idaho.  Any opportunity that I get to bridge my two musical worlds and share that with audiences is always welcomed.”

Lopez took her first step towards the Metropolitan Opera hoeing sugar beets on a farm near Rupert. Born in Rupert to migrant farm workers, Lopez worked alongside her parents hoeing beets to earn extra income for the family in the summers. To make the time go faster, her mother would sing rancheras, or mariachi music.

“We worked long hours in hot and cold weather. It was during those long hours where my mother planted the musical seed in me and taught me and my older brother songs that she knew and grew up with,” said Lopez. “My mother had no formal musical training but I can proudly say that I looked up to her back then for being a beautiful, wise and strong woman and for being so knowledgeable about music.”

As Lopez grew older, her mother volunteered her to sing at rodeos, weddings and quinceanera parties, both in the Magic Valley and in Mexico. Her parents also bought her a tiny organ keyboard at a second-hand store. She took lessons but she also demonstrated a talent for playing tunes by ear.

She set out to study music at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas but became fascinated with the operatic repertoire and the science behind the operatic voice.

“Having a career in opera was not something I aimed for as a child. In fact, my first experience with opera was watching Soprano icon Beverly Sills on ‘Sesame Street,’ which I watched to learn English,” recalled Lopez. “At the time, I remember thinking the singing was a little strange but never thought about it again. But in college I became fascinated with it and was accepted into the vocal performance program.”

Opera does have a lot in common with the mariachi of her childhood, she said. Both feature songs of old—some talking about love; others, unrequited love. Like opera, corridos tell a fictional or non-fictional story about historical figures, or even horses or vehicles.

“Opera crosses with ranchera or mariachi music in the storytelling aspect,” said Lopez. “People who are not exposed to opera often assume opera consists of large people singing nonsense words on a stage oftentimes wearing a horned hat. I want everyone to know that is not the case. Opera is similar to a Latin telenovela. Operatic story lines are full of passion and love. Some show hate, jealousy, murder, betrayal, sacrifice. And some are comical.”

The pandemic proved difficult for Lopez. All of her opera engagements were cancelled. She felt hopeless.

“I got tired of waiting for some kind of normalcy and went back to my mother's teachings of ‘work for what you want’ and got to work doing recitals with Nathan Salazar.  These recitals have been both nurturing for the soul because we were making and sharing music again during the most impossible of circumstances due to the pandemic, and also a huge financial burden lifted from our shoulders, frankly speaking.” 

Lopez says the accolades she’s been accorded leave her speechless.

“It's truly an honor for me to be listed and named among other top singers, leaders, politicians, suffragists, admirable individuals whom I look up to.  I'm in awe, trulyI'd like to think that these awards and honors I've been receiving are all merit based because I have been working hard to be where I am and who I am. 

“But I wouldn't be who I am without my parents.  To my folks, I'm still Cecilia--there is no glamour. They know that underneath the sparkly gowns and the lavish stages, I'm still the girl who loved to sing in the living room, who loved school, the rebellious teenager... I'm Penny and Maria's little girl.”


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