Music

From sweet beets to coveted soprano roles, Cecilia Violetta López comes to FGO for ‘La Traviata’

Written By Michelle F. Solomon
November 8, 2023 at 11:28 AM

Cecília Violetta López as Violetta in “La Traviata” at Opera Colorado, 2018. She’ll sing the role in Florida Grand Opera’s production opening Saturday, Nov. 11 at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, Miami. (Photo courtesy of Matthew Staver)

Cecilia Violetta López vividly remembers when she realized that she had something in common with Giuseppe Verdi’s tragic heroine, Violetta, in “La Traviata.”

When López began studying music in college, she recalls her introduction to the aria, “Sempre libera.”

“It was so beautiful. I wanted to learn it. And then I saw that the name of the role was Violetta, spelled exactly like mine. It was meant to be.”

Destiny arrived years before that, however. The Mexican American says that the traditional spelling of the name in Mexico is with one “t.” But her father decided, while filling out her birth certificate, that his Violetta would be spelled with two.

From left, Pavel Petrov, Cecília Violetta López, and Troy Cook, star in the Florida Grand Opera production of “La Traviata.” (Photos courtesy of Eric Joannes)

López performs in Florida Grand Opera’s season opener of “La Traviata” on Saturday, Nov. 11; Sunday, Nov. 12, and Tuesday, Nov. 14 at the Adrienne Arsht Center, in Miami, and Thursday, Nov. 30 and Saturday, Dec. 2 at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, in Fort Lauderdale.

It took a long time for the daughter of migrant workers from Michoacán to realize that a career in opera could be possible.

“My parents settled in Idaho. My childhood and through adolescence were spent in the fields with my mother and older brother hoeing sugar beets.” Yet she was surrounded by music.

“What was taught to me was mariachi and ranchera music. Opera wasn’t something that people who ‘looked like me’ were exposed to. I went through my upbringing loving music, but loving a different genre of music completely,” she says.

When she attended the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, she studied music education with the idea of becoming a music teacher. “It seemed the most practical,” she admits.

Pavel Petrov as Alfredo and Cecília Violetta López in rehearsal for the Florida Grand Opera production of “La Traviata.” (Photos courtesy of Eric Joannes)

While there, she saw the opera, “La Boheme.” “I walked out of that theater an emotional wreck. I was completely engrossed. I was invested in the story and the way the singers were projecting their voices over the beautiful melodies of Puccini.”

It took some getting used to for her parents to grasp that their daughter was going to be an opera singer. “It wasn’t an art form that we knew about or had a taste for,” she says. López recalls explaining opera in a way that would make sense to her mother.

“Every opera has a storyline,” she told her mother.  “It’s like a Hispanic novella. There’s probably a death in the story, there’s comedy, there’s romance, there’s always some sort of drama happening.”

FGO’s “La Traviata” is the 14th production for López, who moved to Albuquerque, N.M., during the pandemic after spending 20 years in Las Vegas.

And while she has sung the role of the Parisian courtesan Violetta Valéry more than a dozen times, it’s always a challenge, she says. “Violetta keeps me on my toes no matter how many times I sing her.”

Vocally, it is one of the most demanding. The famous Act 1 aria, “Sempre libera” (or “Forever Free”) – the one that López wanted to sing even before she knew anything about her namesake – is a massive musical and dramatic feat. “It is my own personal Mount Everest,” she admits.

Conductor Joe Illick says when López embarks on her ascent, he’ll be right there with her. As an opera conductor, Illick says he works with his orchestra in a way that allows the performers to do what they do best.

“Every performance will be different because there’s never the same thing happening on stage – one night, someone is going to want to hold a phrase longer. My job is to give them the feeling that they don’t even need to think about it. All they need to do is interact with one another in the most believable way. It’s letting the singers express themselves, which to me is what makes opera incredibly powerful.”

Illick says without hesitation that “La Traviata” is one of the greatest opera scores that exists. “The writing is melodic with some of the best tunes anyone ever wrote.”

All opera, he says, is driven by the text, and all the singing is driven by the text. “As an opera conductor, I’m probably at the end of the spectrum of people who really believe it is a work of theater with great music.”

Maestro Joe Illick conducts Cecilia Violetta López and Troy Cook in rehearsal for Florida Grand Opera’s “La Traviata.” Photo courtesy of Eric Joannes)

Illick returns to FGO for the first time since 1993. He was the former interim artistic director of the Greater Miami Opera, which after its merger with The Opera Guild of Fort Lauderdale formed Florida Grand Opera in 1994.

Verdi based his opera on a play by Alexandre Dumas fils, “La Dame aux camélias,” about the most fashionable courtesan in 19th century Paris, Marie Duplessis — Dumas was one of her many lovers. Duplessis died of tuberculosis at the age of 23, just five years before Verdi’s opera premiered in 1853.

In Verdi’s opera, the Parisian courtesan attempts to leave the life she knows to find true love. When she meets a nobleman, Alfredo, they embark on a passionate romance that will be put to the test by society’s expectations.

Cecilia Violetta López will be singing the role of Violetta in her 14th production of “La Traviata” this time at Florida Grand Opera (Photo courtesy of Eric Joannes)

“It’s a story that I think everyone can relate to — of selflessness, of searching for love, of that conflict of self-worth. Her feelings of ‘Is she worth being loved?,’” says  López. “There’s a reason why it has withstood the test of time and truly, I think it’s because of the very human qualities that this story shares.”

WHAT: Florida Grand Opera’s “La Traviata”

WHEN: In Miami, 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 11; 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 12; 8 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 14, and 7:30 p.m. In Fort Lauderdale, Thursday, Nov. 30, and Saturday, Dec. 2.

WHERE: Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami, and Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW 5th Ave., Fort Lauderdale.

COST:  $22, $25, $34, $44, $48,$49,  $53, $55, $75, $78, $84, $85, $90, $94, $105, $133, $143, $145, $160, $169, $185, $200, $210 depending on performance and venue.

INFORMATION: 800-741-1010 or fgo.org

(Sung in Italian with projected translations in English and Spanish)

ArtburstMiami.com is a nonprofit media source for the arts featuring fresh and original stories by writers dedicated to theater, dance, visual arts, film, music and more. Don’t miss a story at www.artburstmiami.com. 

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