COVID-19 outbreak to ruin US opera star’s Italian debut


A coronavirus outbreak in a famed Milan opera chorus has forced the cancelation of one of Europe’s top cultural events and ruined the historic debut of an American soloist.

Soprano Lisette Oropesa was to be the first American to sing a title role in the gala season opener at La Scala since Maria Callas in the 1950s.

Now, an outbreak in both La Scala’s chorus and its orchestra forced the country’s premier opera house to take its signature Dec. 7 opening night in Milan to the airwaves and forgo the glittering crowds and celebrations.

Oropesa is now set to be one of more than 20 opera stars, among them Placido Domingo, Roberto Alagna and Piotr Beczała, recording arias and duets from the tiered theater for a broadcast gala event.

Despite the disappointment of missing her La Scala season-opener debut, Oropesa, 37, still hopes to reprise the title role in Donizetti’s opera in Milan once performances can return to Italy’s theaters.

“To sing a title in an Italian opera as an American soprano is a pretty big deal,” Oropesa said in a phone interview from Barcelona, where she was rehearsing the role of Violetta in “La Traviata.”

Oropesa, a second-generation Cuban-American born in New Orleans, was set to follow in the footsteps of Callas — also a daughter of immigrants — who opened La Scala’s 1955 season singing the title role in Bellini’s “Norma.”

“It is a rare thing to get that honor, and it is definitely important to me. It is more than that: To get to sing Lucia di Lammermoor in an Italian theater at all is beyond belief. I was really looking forward to that,” she said.

“I hope it happens in the future. If it doesn’t, it wasn’t meant to be.”

Oropesa was already in Milan and two weeks into rehearsals when the fall virus resurgence shut down theaters. Even before the partial lockdown in Lombardy, the theater had been hit by a virus outbreak that eventually infected 43 chorus singers and 18 musicians. That made staging the full opera —even to an empty theater as other theaters have done — too big a health risk. Management opted for a gala evening of star singers and ballet dancers, mostly recorded in segments in advance.

“By the time you get to the rehearsals as an opera singer, you have done 90% of the work,” Oropesa said. “We were doing a version of the role I have never done before in different keys higher than I usually sing. To get there, and start digesting the staging, and the costumes and to stop it midway is like cooking the turkey for Thanksgiving, and someone turns it off halfway done.”

Oropesa counts herself lucky she is working at all in a season of rolling theater shutdowns that has left many singers and musicians struggling to get by.

Friends back in the United States, where theaters have been on a tight shutdown all year, have had it tougher, she said, generating income when they can with singing lessons and virtual concerts, but also as Uber drivers and construction workers.

Oropesa said her career was just established enough to help her find work more easily.

With Associated Press Wires


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