Thursday, June 23, 2011

Opera Organically: The Fifth Principle

The Fifth Principle of Opera Organically is:

The Voice is Universal.

Singing is not a solitary journey.  So often it may seem to be, when we are along the Path to 'finding' our Voice.  But the truth is, if we really look at our experience, we've known our Voice, and that which connects us to other Seekers on the Path, all along.  Each new discovery, each bit of new understanding is like a retrieved memory: like a dance step we might have known as a child that comes back to us suddenly, or sentences from a language we heard in the womb.

What is this memory?  What are these whispers that say to us when we sing our truest voices: You have known me before?

It is interesting to consider that we singers, inspired to sing opera by what we might individually interpret as infinitely different reasons, may be being "breathed" and "sung" by a power, by a Universal Voice, which is beyond our individual experience.  When we are open to thinking from this universal perspective, our journey to honesty and authenticity as singers takes on a whole new meaning.  What once seemed a solitary struggle for the unattainable becomes a group quest to understand and "let go" into what already exists.

This Fifth Principle could be integral to the perpetuation of our art form. For as individuals, we are unique expressions of the Universal Voice.  As a community, the light which shines through us collectively in the form of music on breath, originating from that which connects us a community aware of all the deep possibilities of our human existence, we shine so brightly that no questions like "Why opera..." need be asked.  The only thing left to experience in the awareness of Universal Voice is awe.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Opera Organically: Lisette Oropesa

Dear Opera Organically Readers, 

I am deeply honored and excited to welcome our first Guest Post on the Opera Organically Blog!

Soprano Lisette Oropesa (click for a link to her Columbia Artists Management website), Metropolitan Opera roster member and international opera singer, honors us with her Opera Organically story in this first Guest Post.  I am certain that you will find her heartfelt honesty and clarity of message as inspiring and uplifting as I have!  

As always, do feel free to join in the discussion of what it means to make Opera Organically either here on the Blog or by joining Opera Organically on Facebook. We are 'creating a better world, for opera singers, by opera singers'! 

With Love,  Becca 



Everyone is blessed with a special set of gifts. Some people have amazing mathematical minds, while others are mechanically inclined. Some people are born with exceptional artistic talents. Others have extraordinary physical capabilities. You name it, there’s someone out there who was just born with it. Now, there are also people out there who weren’t born into fortunate capabilities...or at least they don’t seem to have been. They are the ones who take a lifetime to achieve incredible feats through hard work, lots of mistakes and failures, and patience. To whom is the gift of achievement more valuable? The person who was born with it or the person who had to work really hard to get it?

I think it is safe to say that every person on the planet can attest to a combination of these things. Everybody has a gift that can be cultivated. Whether or not that gift is what makes you happy...well that’s up to the stars. Whether or not you have the motivation or the support to cultivate that gift is another decision of fate. But as humans, we all have the same basic needs. We want to live, we want to be free, we want to belong, and we want to love and be loved.

As a child I was very verbally and musically inclined. I was bilingual and could sing entire songs, memorized, and perfectly in tune at the age of 3. The acknowledgement of these gifts led me to become artistic, and I spent a lot of time drawing, reading and writing. I was lucky enough to enjoy cultivating these gifts, so they got a lot of time and attention.

Although I was always a very good student and musician, I was as far from athletic as possible, and dreaded P.E. or anything physical. I was picked last for the basketball team, I was the last one to finish the one mile run. I wanted to be better at sports but I just didn’t think I was capable. Compared to the other girls I wasn’t at all flexible or fast, and I was heavier too. But I thought, why should I worry about it when I could outsing all those girls on the field? So needless to say years went by when I didn’t give two shits about what I ate or how much, and exercise was something I didn’t give a second thought to.

Then I got to college and the weight issue came up more seriously, mostly from teachers or people who were my “friends,” who were concerned about my future. I tried to add a little physical activity to my life but ended up being more discouraged than anything because I didn’t know where to start, what I should be doing or how much, or what to eat that wasn’t bad for me. The one big decision I made was to stop drinking soda. That was my first thing. Then I joined a friend in the gym a few times and tried the elliptical machine. I walked around the LSU lakes a few times, but Louisiana is stifling hot and that didn’t work out so well for me. All in all, I didn’t stick to it. Except that I stopped buying soda.

Then I moved to New York, and the weight thing was no longer an “I’ll get around to it sometime,” it was more of a career necessity. I was 21 and had just started the Lindemann Program. They simply told me that because of my voice type, it would definitely help me to look the part. So I simply responded, “OK. I’ll do it.” At the time I weighed 205 pounds.

So I sat down and had a talk with myself. I had been unhappy with my looks for a long time. I was tired of hearing that I needed to lose weight. Even the doctor said so. I thought, “OK, I’m 21. Here I am in New York, singing as a young artist with the Met. I’ll be here for 3 years. People lose weight every day, so I know I can do this and I’m ready; I’m young enough that it shouldn’t be too hard. Besides, why would I let something like that screw my career over before it even begins?!” So that was it. The first day of summer vacation I signed up at the YMCA and began going to the gym every day. I got back on that trusty elliptical machine and did 15 minutes, then 20 minutes, then 25, and finally 30. By the end of the summer I had lost 20 pounds. When I got back to the program the 2nd year everyone was very proud of me for doing what I set out to do. I never heard “you need to lose weight” again.

Well, I continued in my healthy habit of exercising regularly and got down to about 170, where I stayed for a good year. I was pretty happy there, and wasn’t sure how much further I could really go without more severe changes. Diet-wise, I was still eating meat, pizza, pasta, pretty much anything I wanted, but just not as often.

Then I went through the worst 2 years of my life. Steven, the boy I loved when I was 14, found me on facebook and we reconnected, and realized we still loved each other. Although it may sound rosy, it wasn’t. We wanted to be together, but there was a LOT of personal stuff going on in both our lives at the time and that’s a saga in itself; let’s just say that by the time Steven moved up to New York to be with me I had lost another 25 pounds. Now, that weight...I am not sure how I lost it. Before the “saga” I was exercising regularly but I had hit a plateau. However, during the saga the emotional strain was so great I was hardly eating at all, and not even really exercising. I look back now and think that I probably would call that “unhealthy.” But I can’t change the past.

Then Steven moved up to be with me and I/we began building our relationship from basically nothing. I was VERY emotionally unstable because of the saga, and yet I still had to sing. Every time I opened my mouth though, I sang with a new and very deep emotional connection, and somehow my artistry grew. They say that to be a true artist you must suffer. Maybe it’s great for the listener but I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

So what happened next? Well, I realized that just being with Steven again wasn’t going to fix all the issues I was having. Even though I love him so much, it seemed like I had suffered permanent damage. Nightmares, horrific visions, hours and hours of weeping, anger, hatred, you name it. I was filled with all the demons of the world. To counter that, Steven and I began spending much more time together and building a very solid foundation. This included our shared desire to get back to regular exercise. Although neither of us was really overweight, we began cooking and exercising together as a way to cultivate closeness in our relationship. We started running together and also started practicing yoga. We’ve been doing both of these things regularly for a year and have come to LOVE them.

Well here’s where I get emotional. After just a few sessions of yoga practice, I honestly believe that it has healing powers. I have never been so in touch with my source of strength, EVER. Yoga is finding that internal fire that keeps burning. It makes me feel an inner peace and radiance that I just cannot explain. The discoveries I am making with my body each day also carry over into running.

Steven and I were both complete beginners, but we BOTH wanted to become better at it! Remember how I used to be the last to finish the mile? Well my P.E. teacher would be proud of me now! After months of running regularly, and building up a little at a time, I absolutely am in love with running, and how happy it has made me feel. Again, healing powers. What they say is true. Nothing will make you feel happier than the glory of exploring the outdoors with the ground moving under your feet. There is a simplicity to this God-given form of exercise that is just perfect. You don’t need anything else!

Have these things led to more weight loss? Absolutely! I am officially down to 125 pounds. Diet changes too? Yep. Now I feel like my body deserves the respect of high quality foods in order to support high quality living.. But the most important thing is, these activities have helped to HEAL me as a human being...they have created genuine happiness in me because they have put me back in touch with my center. I thought I was lost, my spirit crushed, and that I may never sing again, until I began to grow from the inside out.

There is no greater feeling than running from the heart, and in yoga, radiating from the heart, and of course, singing from the heart. Strengthen THAT body part, and the rest will follow.

Lisette (center) radiating with Steven (right) and cousin Crystal (left), in Maine.

Monday, June 13, 2011

No. 147: The Voice, The Self

For many people, following the Path
which the Classical School of Singing lays out for us
means, purely, finding their Voice.
For others, it means finding their Self.
Opera Organically is about exploring all variations of the Path, 
all combinations of Self and Voice,
so that in the Search for One 
we do not forget 
the Other.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

No. 146: On the Wind

Heart you carry me
on a wind that ever-changes
and the only thing
I can grasp 
is Who You Are
and Where You Come from...
Who I Am
and What I Do
is, I hope, connected 
to You
as my breath, my thoughts,
and all that makes "Me"
as you do
on the rhythms
and with the scope
of all time.
Carry me, winds of Love
and let me rest
in You
ever moving,
ever true...

Quote of the Day: What is Evolution?

Whenever I explain what evolution is, I say simply this: Evolution is a cosmic process that is going somewhere in and through time. And we are all part of that process. This simple fact is potentially life-transforming, but it's also hard to grasp at a deep level. The process that created us is moving. We tend to see the world around us as static. But it's not. It's going somewhere. We're going somewhere. Awakening to this truth about all of manifestation changes the way we see the world around us and our place in it. The biggest and most important part of this awakening is that we discover our power to affect where the process that created us is going. We realize the ultimate reason for our own existence: to be a spiritual hero, to boldly take responsibility for the future of the process itself.
~ Andrew Cohen

Opera Organically: The Fourth Principle

The Fourth Principle of Opera Organically is:

The voice is an organism in need of cultivation.

We are living in a world that is focused on 'hard work'.  However 'hard work' has no meaning unless we know why we are working!  We hear almost every great singing artist speak about how they got to where they are because they 'worked hard'. When we hear this kind of reasoning, many questions spring to mind:

What drives this person?  Is it a daily grind of work, work, work, or is it something more?  What kind of 'work' is necessary to serve an art form as powerful and wide-reaching as opera?  Where does the energy and the spirit come from to fuel this work?...

Yes, singing takes work, but not in the way we think.  We are taught that more hours in the practice room will create a better singer.  Yet there are stories of students who have sung themselves to vocal graves from over practice, trying to do all the right things toward success while never achieving a true knowledge of and peaceful relationship to their Voices.

What do we mean by working on the Voice?

This Fourth Principle is strongly based on Kammersängerin Hilde Zadek's advice to me to "get to know and allow your IT".  When we think of the Voice as something in need of care and in need of our understanding, we are suddenly free of the pressure to become what we are not.  This is why I capitalize the word Voice in most of my posts here on Opera Organically.  The Voice is much more than a tool, much more than something which we are taught to shape and manipulate into a thing which will bring us fame and glory.

The Voice is an entity which has chosen US as ITs means of expression! 

The Voice is already complete, an already accessible element of who we are, capable of growth under our gentle attention and understanding.  When we trust this, we realize we are cultivating a part of us which is already present and already complete.  Learning to sing from this perspective becomes an incredible journey of discovery, like peeling the petals slowly open from the flowers of our Hearts until we can gaze in and see the true beauty of what the Voice is.

Very rarely does Voice show Herself all at once!  S/He asks for us to discover what S/He needs to grow. We must learn to speak His language, to hear what S/He's asking learn to have a dialogue with IT.   This is what it means to 'work' on the Voice!  This 'work' means thousands of questions which seem to lead to nowhere...until we hear an answer on the wind or in a dream.  It means being willing and able to see the Voice which we sense to be incredibly beautiful and powerful (and rightly so!) in ourselves at the beginning of our studies as a tiny seed.  At the beginning IT is almost invisible, but with the correct kind of work, IT will grow into the majestic expression of who we are that we always knew IT could be.

A gardener who knows that her prize winning tomato plants begin from a tiny seed trusts that with love and attention, the right environment and the most nourishing soil, the plant will grow on its own.  So it can be with Voice!  When we know that our very selves are the soil, the sun, the earth and water with which we allow our Voices to grow, what magic is possible in our lives--and what an incredibly beautiful responsibility we have as singers!  Male or female, we are pregnant with the Essence of our Voices from the day we are conceived!  What a joyful discovery!!

This post is dedicated to my friend Evelyn,
beautiful pastor-in-training, with whom, in Vienna, 
Opera Organically gave Voice to the idea of 'cultivation'.

With Love,