From the farm fields of Idaho to the stage at the Metropolitan Opera, but Cecilia Violetta Lopez found the right path and stayed on it.
Born and raised in Idaho, her parents were migrant farm workers who sang mariachi music in the fields while they worked. Because there was no work in the winter, they returned to Michoacan, Mexico, for the deep winter months, and she was home-schooled part of every year with help from an aunt, who was a teacher. “I learned English from Sesame Street but had never heard of opera as a child,” she says. “I always loved to sing, though. And even when I was young, I was asked to sing at quinceañeras and rodeos and such.”
She was working in the medical field after high school when her then-husband encouraged her to go to college to become a music teacher. She enrolled at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and soon realized that she didn’t love teaching. But, one night, she went to a campus production of La Boheme to support some classmates who were performing.
“From the crackle of the programs to the orchestra warming up, I felt this new excitement,” she says. “When the curtain went up and the first notes were sung, I was enchanted. I cried at the end when the soprano dies—I didn’t expect that. I had tears rolling down my face. And then I thought, ‘This is what I want to do.’” It took her three tries to be accepted into the vocal arts program, but she excelled and graduated in 2011. A month later, she had an offer from Opera San Jose in California.
Being Latina hasn’t hampered or limited her career, though she has heard it has been harder for others. “It’s funny because the whole idea of diversity, inclusion, and equality is at the forefront of the opera industry,” she says. “I truly feel like opera has not discriminated against me. They listen to me at my auditions and see if I have the vocal capacity to sing the role, and being a Latina is not an obstacle.”
She has performed all over the country and has been named one of opera’s “25 Rising Stars” by Opera News. She’s on the roster at the Metropolitan Opera in New York and has performed in many other major city
Opera houses, including Denver. She is the artistic director for Opera Idaho, where she is learning the business side of operating a nonprofit and hopes to audition soon for the Santa Fe Opera—not far from her new chosen home in Albuquerque.
She is often asked, did she choose opera or did it choose her? “After 10 years of singing, I feel like it kind of chose me,” she says. “There was a path before me, and I took it.” If she had not become a singer, she might have pursued a culinary career, she says. “I love to cook. But my mother now owns a restaurant in Idaho, and there I am reminded of how much hard work it is, and I think, ‘Nope, I like my job just fine.’”
At “Latina Voices,” she will perform a song her mother taught her and a piece from Madama Butterfly that is meaningful to her and speaks to her relationship with her mother. “She always uses music to express herself,” Lopez says. “I guess I got that from her.”