• Exclusive Opera Lively Interview with Elizabeth Caballero

    Elizabeth Caballero's lush lyric voice has filled opera houses all around the country for well over a decade. She has recently appeared as Mimi in the Central City (Colorado) Opera's opening night of La Bohème [read our review by clicking (here)]

    [Opera Lively interview # 39]

    Artistic Biography (© Copyright 2012 Elizabeth Caballero):

    Cuban-American soprano Elizabeth Caballero"brought great warmth and emotion" as Magda in Florida Grand Opera's La Rondine to begin 2012. The current season began last fall when she opened Lyric Opera of Kansas City's new opera house as Liu in their new production of Turandot and "her performance of the piece was stunning". She recently performed “the strongest and most memorable performance of this production as Micaela with her soaring, lyrical soprano and poised, graceful presence” for Central City Opera. She was also “a truly wonderful Violetta” for Madison Opera and had a triumph as Liu in Florida Grand Opera’s season-opening Turandot last fall. "Elizabeth Caballero gave a meltingly effective performance...in the aria Signore, ascolta...her warm, middle range tones and floating high notes made for a moving plea to the prince". Just prior she was Nedda with Kentucky Opera. During the summer she sang recitals in Montevideo after her highly successful recital in Miami in June. She made her house debut at the Metropolitan Opera as Frasquita in their new Carmen this past season. Acclaimed by the San Francisco Chronicle as a "powerful diva in the making" Cuban-American soprano, Elizabeth Caballero is becoming widely recognized for her fearless portrayals of the lyric soprano repertoire. She has been praised by Steven Smith of The New York Times for providing: "the evening's most show-stopping performance offering a thrilling balance of pearly tone, exacting technique and brazen physicality”.

    Some other recent performances include her debut with the Seattle Opera as Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro [she was immediately reengaged as Mimi in a new Bohème for a future season!] Last year she was Donna Elvira with Nashville Opera and returned to the Florida Grand Opera as Contessa Almaviva in their Le Nozze di Figaro.

    In 2007-08, Miss. Caballero returned to the New York City Opera, where she was heard as Nedda in a new production of I Pagliacci and reprised her popular Musetta. She made her anticipated return to the Florida Grand Opera as Mimi to great critical acclaim. That season she debuted with San Antonio Opera as Adina in the Garry Marshall production of L'elisir d'amore, and at Opera New Jersey as Violetta. Miss Caballero closed the season with her international debut as Magda in La rondine at the Teatro Verdi in Trieste.

    Miss Caballero made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 2006 asMusetta for the Met in the Park series. She has appeared as Donna Elvira with the New York City Opera, Florentine Opera, and Mobile Opera; as Micaela with Florida Grand Opera and Mobile Opera, as Mimi with Palm Beach Opera and the Merola Opera Program of the San Francisco Opera, and as Fiordiligi with the Merola again and Western Opera Theater.

    In addition to being a National Grand Finalist in the 2001 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, Miss Caballero has won numerous awards, including the Richard Gold Debut Artist Award for her performance as Donna Elvira at the New York City Opera. A two-time winner of a Gerda Lissner Foundation Award, she has been awarded prizes from the George London Foundation, Licia Albanese Puccini Foundation, Opera Index, Inc., and was the recipient of the coveted annual Diva Award from the New York City Opera in 2007. A native of Havana, Cuba, she now resides in Miami, FL and studies with Manny Perez.

    Other future engagements include a return to Liu for Austin Lyric, Mimi for Central City Opera, and again, for Seattle Opera as well as Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni & Donna Anna for Madison Opera. She will also begin next season in her role debut as Cio Cio San in Madama Butterfly at Lyric Opera of Kansas City.

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    Opera Lively's Exclusive Interview with Elizabeth Caballero:

    Ms. Caballero graciously sat down for a frank and interesting interview with us.

    OL: You’ll be singing Mimi in Central City’s production of La Bohème. You also sang Micaela at Central City in 2011. Given Central City’s altitude and dry mountain air, does singing here present difficulties or limit you in any way? Do you have to take extra precautions?

    EC: It takes about two weeks to get adjusted to the altitude. I read somewhere that it's the highest opera house in the world. I thought it was Lima, Peru, but it's Central City – it's 8500 feet above sea level. That's nearly as high as some private planes fly, so when you think about it that way ...

    It takes awhile and for me, the other aspect was the allergies you suffer from up there. Being a person who never suffered from allergies, up there somehow they do get to me, so I make sure I take all the precautions I can. I run a humidifier in my room, I try to drink a gallon of water per day, and definitely stay away from caffeine, so no coffee. I became a vegetarian too.

    OL: Becoming vegetarian, giving up coffee – that must have been tough!

    EC: You know what I did, I did the Master Cleanse, I cleansed my body for 10 days as a detox – I can't believe I survived it – and I thought to myself, you know I went through all this hard work for 10 days, I'm gonna do something new, so I gave up the coffee and I decided to start eating a more healthy diet.

    OL: Was it hard giving up meat?

    EC: I never was much of a meat-eater, I know as a Cuban that's kind of ridiculous. I haven't found it that hard. Maybe during the holidays, but I've only been doing this since March. I'd really like to stick to it because I feel the best I've ever felt. If [coffee and meat are what] I have to sacrifice to feel good when I'm singing, then I'll have a big old cup of coffee when I retire. You know in baseball when a player goes on a streak, he has his ritual that he follows? This is my streak and I'm not going to mess it up.

    OL: La Bohème is, of course, one of the most performed operas and Mimi has been interpreted by every lyric soprano of note. How do you approach such a well-known role? Is there an “Elizabeth Caballero” interpretation, or does your approach and interpretation vary based on the production and director? Or just generally speaking, how much of your performance is based on your interpretation of a character versus the director’s vision and the impact of the other singers?



    EC: That's a great question. I think that every character that I sing, I like to bring a little bit of my own self to it. I do like to hear how others in the past have sung it, or how someone directed it or conducted it. They are who we learn from, just like jazz musicians of today listen to John Coltrane to try and learn from him. So, we can't forget what was done in the past. But I do like to put my own fingerprint on it too, I like to approach Mimi in a straightforward way. Opera is changing and evolving and we need to bring it to the real world and not be as melodramatic any more. Another thing that's changing along with the singing is the acting; we approach it as actors nowadays. Before, you could park-and-bark, stand there and sing it. And that's great, that's what people wanted to see and wanted to hear and it was fantastic. Now, you have to look the part, you have to act the part as well as sing the part. You have to do it all. And Mimi is such a beautiful role to act, she's so young and so frail and it's such a great opera that in my opinion is about young death.

    Death is always going to be terrible but I think it's even more terrible when it's young because there's so much more life that could have been lived. And being a singer who has done both Mimi and Musetta – and this is one of the things I was talking about with our director [Kevin Newbury] – is that I think Mimi and Musetta are similar people, the same girl in a way. They're both girls that need to do whatever they can to survive. I think the major difference between these two girls is that Mimi knows she is dying while Musetta is healthy. When someone finds out they have a certain amount of time to live, they look at life in a very different way. They can look at it in a very angry way, very bitter, or they try to live every day like it's their last. And I think that's kind of how Mimi is, where Musetta is that way too – she tries to live each day to the fullest – but Mimi has this knowledge of “I'm sick; I might die tomorrow”.

    I like to think that in the beginning of Act 1 … Not only does she blow out the candle but I think she has been watching the boys for awhile from her window – there's just too many coincidences – the three boys leave and just then she knocks at the door. And it could have been Marcello who was left behind, Colline, Schaunard, it could have been any one of them, it just happened to be Rodolfo. And I think she is in love with love. It's not until later on, in Act 3, when we do realize she is in love with him, and we realize it even more in Act 4 when she tells him, you know, “You are my life, you mean more than anything to me”, and I think that's because he made her feel … alive.

    They had their fights, they had their ups and downs, but he never made her feel sick, he never tells her that he can't break up with her because she's too sick. Although that's something that I think is infuriating to her, makes her very angry, that's why I think the aria in Act 3 is an angry aria. People tend to play it as a weak, sad aria – no. I think she's very angry because she finally heard him say why he's been bickering with her , why they've been fighting, he's too much of a coward to tell her “You're too sick and I can't take care of you.” If he would have just told her that, then [she could say] “OK, let's do something about it, let's either break up now or let's work it out” but he's a coward, which is not good.

    So she finally hears him say this and Donde lieta uscì – it's like jabbing at him. It's in a very non-Musetta way, where Musetta would spit at him and slap him and walk away. It's more calculated. She has more time to think about it, along with her death always in the back of her mind. So I think that's the major difference between these two girls. I do like to approach her from more of an acting standpoint, especially Act 4 where – and [Renata] Scotto was fantastic at doing this – where you can do a kind of parlando singing and it's so beautiful and something that can be done when you sing verismo, and I love, love, love doing that.

    OL: You’ve proven to have a flexible voice, having sung lyric parts such as Countess Almaviva and Mimi, Donna Elvira (often considered a spinto role), more dramatic roles like Liu, Musetta (often tackled by lighter lyrics or coloraturas), etc. Is this by preference or more due to the roles that are available at the time? Is there too much emphasis on pigeonholing singers into a specific fach or does specialization allow for the best development of the voice?

    EC: I consider myself a full lyric soprano. I do love to sing Mozart, I'm love singing Mozart – I call it “butter on the vocal cords”. Especially when it comes to Mozart and Verdi, if you're having trouble singing either of those two, there's something technical going on – at least, that's how I grade it for my voice. Whereas with Puccini or Leoncavallo, the more verismo type roles, you can get away with a little technical thing here or there. I don't know why – maybe it's the way the style is or the way the orchestra is written, whereas with Mozart and Verdi you're a lot more exposed. So I do use them to grade myself technically which is why I'm so happy that after I sing my first Butterfly, I'll sing Violetta immediately after that. So I'll be able to say, “OK, what did Butterfly do to me? Gotta fix that with Verdi!” If you have a good technique, you should be able to sing anything with your own voice. Within the same same fach, with your own voice, I'm not going to lighten up my voice for Mozart or for Musetta or Adina, I'm going to sing it with my own voice. I think you can sing anything that way.

    OL: So you don't try to color your voice heavier or lighter for some roles?

    EC: No, I think that's a little unhealthy, whenever you try to manipulate your instrument. I think you should use your instrument as best you can and, obviously, respect what the composer wrote – sing the coloraturas exactly, grace notes here, have respect for what's written there – and if you want to do any kind of shading, that should be through the text, how you approach and how you say or sing it.

    OL: Or with portamento, for example?

    EC: Yeah, and the style, but it's still going to be the color and shade of my voice, without manipulation. I'm not going to alter my voice in any sort of way. At least for me, I've found that [doing that] gives me some trouble. I'm sure it works for other people, but not for me.

    OL: When we interviewed Matthew Polenzani, he said that he thinks a singer's voice peaks in its 30s. Is that true for you?

    EC: I think so. I'm going through a nice change in my voice. As a young singer it's easy to darken your color to sound older. I did this too when I was younger, but we need to remember that it's going to happen on its own, just let nature take its course. For some it will happen sooner, for others it will take longer, but it will happen naturally.

    OL: Your family emigrated from Cuba while you were still a young child in 1980. Do you still have family in Cuba? With the travel ban to Cuba in place, have you been able to visit since you left?

    EC: When I came to the United States, I'd just turned 6. I only spoke Spanish. I still have some family [in Cuba] on my mother's side. I haven't been able to get back to visit.

    OL: I’ve noticed that you’ve sung in Trieste and Uruguay but have performed the majority of your roles in the US. Is that a deliberate choice on your part, staying state-side and closer to home?

    EC: No, unfortunately it's happened that way. I'd love to sing more in Europe. But with my voice type, there's so many of us, so many great singers of my voice type, it just hasn't happened. But my management is working on getting me there soon, probably London and the UK, and then branching off from there. So I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it happens.

    OL: I’ve read that you’d love to sing Tosca or Manon Lescaut. Is your voice developing to a spinto sound? Are those the types of roles you see yourself taking on in the future?

    EC: (laughing) Oh, I would love … those are two of my dream roles. Manon Lescaut is probably the next [major role debut] I'd like to tackle. Manon Lescaut is written in a very interesting way. Act 1 and up to the duet in Act 2 are very lyric. Then the Act 2 duet – spinto all the way. You gotta put the pants on! And in Act 3, you have that huge concertato and then Sola, Perdutta, Abbandonata is like … amazing! And that's all big, heavy-duty singing. I could see myself singing it in the next four to five years. I thought that Tosca was a role I'd like to tackle soon but that's a big girl voice. Especially the confrontation with Scarpia and the high Cs. And what's interesting about Puccini is that the B flats and Bs and Cs – especially the B flats, because he tends to write a lot of B flats – all feel like high Ds, just how they're approached. It doesn't matter where you're at – this altitude or sea level – they somehow feel like a high D sometimes.

    OL: Do you sing those roles for fun, when you're at home?

    EC: More the Manon Lescaut. Tosca I have too much respect for. I like Tosca just because she's such a badass (laughing). She's got one of the greatest lines in opera: Questo è il bacio di Tosca! and bam! I've always loved girls who are badasses, you know? I'm not a weak person, and that's why I like these women who just go for it. Even Butterfly; I used to think before I started studying the role, that she was so weak and pathetic. But in studying the role and Japanese culture, everything she does is just so strong. Killing yourself to keep your honor? That takes guts, man.

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    Many thanks to Ms. Caballero for her time and graciousness.
    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Schigolch's Avatar
      Schigolch -
      Interesting comments about Mimi / Musetta.


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