From the fields of Idaho to Verdi’s ‘La Traviata’: how Cecilia López conquered opera in the US | The USA Print

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Cecilia López learned to sing among beet fields. At only 10 years old, she had a thick voice, expanding her chest, as her mother did when she sang the rancheras of José Alfredo Jiménez and Miguel Aceves Mejía, with a power that seemed to shake the entire vast estate where they work as growers. There, barefoot, plowing the land to help her parents, Mexican immigrants who had arrived in Idaho, in the north of the United States, the girl discovered the scope of her voice, with which she managed to transport her family to the warm days of the ranch in Michoacán where they lived before migrating.

Years later, far from the fields, from dirty hair on the ground, from singing in the rain, Cecilia signed up for an audition to study lyrical singing at the University of Nevada. Her gender was unfamiliar to him; her repertoire was more specialized in Mexican rancheras de oro. But after being forced by her friends to see the opera ‘La Boheme’, by Giacomo Puccini, she had a kind of epiphany.

Cecilia López in a childhood photo with her father.
Cecilia López in a childhood photo with her father.Courtesy

“That experience of seeing all the people like little ants looking for their seats, with the program in hand, then hearing the orchestra that soaks into your skin, seeing the story of Mimí and Rodolfo, being a witness when she, in the penultimate act , appears coughing and you can not imagine that he is going to die of tuberculosis. Reaching the end when the tenor holds her dying and sings Mimiiiiiiii! And you can’t stop crying. There I said: this is what I want to do, move the audience like this. I fell in love!. That changed the trajectory of my learning”, recalls the artist.

In her first audition, standing before the rigid judges, Cecilia would understand that her chest voice, the one she imitated from the mariachis and whose vibration she could clearly feel if she put her hands between her ribs, had to give way to new ways of singing. If she wanted to get the high notes that the sheet music demanded, she would have to draw her voice from other places in her body.

“They loved María Callas and I loved Lola Beltrán,” recalls the singer gracefully, who then discovered that her voice could also come out of her head. Tensing just the edge of her vocal folds, feeling her voice vibrate between her eyes and her nose, her notes grew finer, higher pitched. Cecilia studied for months accompanied by a piano until she achieved the desired passaggiothat super power of lyrical singers to connect the voice to be able to go from its lowest tones to its highest in a continuous, clean, homogeneous way.

After two unsuccessful auditions, in the third, that balance between chest and head was perfected, and that mixture of the low singing of the peasant land and the educated lyric would open powerful and unexpected destinations. “The teachers saw my maturity, but they also saw the tenacity, that desire that didn’t let me give up when they rejected me,” recalls the soprano. But for her, her decisive approval was that of her mother.

The soprano Cecilia López during one of her presentations in the United States.
The soprano Cecilia López during one of her presentations in the United States.Courtesy

“My parents always told us to give it a try, to do what we could to stand out. So, when I passed the operatic singing audition, I no longer wanted to continue studying to be a music teacher, which was the initial idea. when i told it to myself ma, I was prepared for her to scold me, but she told me: ‘You know that I will always be proud of you. You are the first woman in your family to graduate with a college degree, and if you feel like this is what you want to do, then go ahead and go for it. We support you’. We both started crying,” says López, who has been recognized as one of the ten most influential women in Idaho of the century. The soprano has also been included in the list of the 25 young stars of the publication Opera News and his reputation has spread to opera houses across the country.

However, her recognition in the sophisticated world of lyrical singing, the sumptuous dresses, the elaborate makeup and the invocation of refined and subtle manners created surprise in her for a long time. Despite the fact that Cecilia was born in the United States in 1982, she suffered in her childhood the ups and downs of her entire family being undocumented.

When in winter the work of the crops was scarce due to the snow, the whole family crossed the border illegally to be able to return and work in Mexico. She was the only one who had papers because she was born in Idaho. The risks of these journeys, the bitterest memories of his childhood, only ceased when in 1986 the López managed to regularize their situation in the United States thanks to the immigration amnesty approved during the Ronald Reagan Administration. It is understandable that now that the press baptizes her ‘The daughter of Idaho’ she sees, at least, the great paradox behind her.

But regardless of her past, or where she comes from, Cecilia’s voice is truly different for all those who hear it. She is unique, to the point that when she was just graduated, with no real experience and very few contacts, she got her first audition to be part of the San Jose Opera, in California. Although she showed up not fully believing in her talent, the legendary Irene Dalis invited her to be part of her project permanently.

Cecilia López in the fields of Idaho.
Cecilia López in the fields of Idaho. Courtesy

The invitation that finally catapulted her career was that of the renowned baritone Mark Rucker to travel to New York and play Violetta in Verdi’s La Traviata. “There I go with my ranch soprano to play a role that is a flagship of the opera. From the beginning I was obsessed with Violetta and her story, which for me is the embodiment of everything that defines femininity. She is strong, beautiful, full of confidence, she doesn’t care what happens, she is selfless, to the point of sacrificing her happiness for the benefit of someone she loves”, explains Cecilia. In addition to her humble origins, the soprano has a mysterious coincidence with her character that would change her life. “Despite the fact that my father is Mexican, when he baptized me, he gave me Violetta as a middle name, like this, with a double t, without any explanation because he only speaks Mexican. When I saw the name of Verdi’s character I couldn’t help but notice the coincidence: she, who is Italian, had the same name as me, Violetta with double t. She was destined”.

After having conquered important theaters throughout the United States, and winning compliments that assure that “López is a Violetta like few have been seen”, as the critics of Washington Post, there is a recognition that Cecilia López still keeps and longs for in her heart. “I dream of going on tour to Mexico, to be invited to the Palace of Fine Arts, that would be a great honor, because my heart will always be a rancher.”

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