Known for her vivid portrayals, Cuban American soprano Lisette Oropesa is one of the most in-demand lyric coloraturas today.
She performs leading roles regularly at the most important opera houses around the world and has achieved worldwide acclaim for her seamless vocal technique, expressive musicality, linguistic affinity, and stylistic integrity.
In one of her most recent performances, the Cuban American soprano went viral after a young fan and talented opera singer joined her in an incredibly unconventional, but heartwarming, duet.
Oropesa was at the Teatro Regio di Parma to perform a solo recital at the Verdi Festival in Parma, Italy. At the end of the concert, the strong response from the audience prompted Oropesa to sing four encores.
For her fourth song, she decided to sing Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata, which requires a male singing partner. However, no male singers had been arranged for the concert.
The Cuban American soprano’s last song was “Sempre Libera” or “Forever Free” from La Traviata. The song features a male tenor from off stage, as if singing from below a balcony.
No one sang the first bar where a male singer should have sung, but on the second bar, a young fan from the audience joined the opera singer in the duet.
Liu Jianwei 24, a student at the Conservatorio Giuseppe Nicolini di Piacenza, had studied the tenor part of the aria thoroughly and noticed no accompaniment in the first bar. So when the second bar began, he summoned all of his courage to sing the male lead portion of the song.
He said, “I stood up to sing because Lisette Oropesa is a musician I love very much and I happened to have learned this opera before.”
The spontaneous duet surprised the Cuban American soprano, who uttered an entranced “Oh!” and a generous “Grazie” at the wonderful moment. When it was Oropesa’s turn to sing, she changed the lyrics of “Lover” to “Thank you.”
After the video of the surprise duet went viral, Chinese social media called Jianwei a “hero” for offering the Cuban American soprano a helping hand.
Jianwei, however, quickly went on Weibo to say he would not pull a singing stunt like this again. “It is not something worthy of pride, nor something worthy of being advocated. Please don’t interrupt singers when they are singing on stage. It’s impolite behavior. Don’t imitate me and I will never do this again in the future,” he stated.
In fact, after the concert Jianwei went backstage and apologized to Oropesa. Despite the breach in opera protocol though, the famous opera singer graciously took a picture with Jianwei and gave him her autograph.
The Cuban American soprano is one of the most celebrated singers of her generation. After completing her studies in vocal performance at Louisiana State University, Oropesa entered the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program in New York City after winning the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions.
Her first major role was Susanna in Le Nozze Di Figaro at the Metropolitan Opera at the age of 22, and she has sung in over 100 performances in many different roles ever since.
She has appeared in concert halls and opera stages all over the world after graduating from the young artist program in 2008.
Since the incident, many have disagreed that Jianwei’s singing was not “worthy of pride,” and were in fact thrilled with the unexpected singing and the reaction of the soprano.
One comment stated, “You can tell how much she loved this moment. She was surprised but you can tell how happy she was when he joined in. She even sings ‘O grazie’ where the ‘o amore’ is written.”
Another stated, “Normally, you DO NOT sing along at an opera. But this man rightfully broke the rules and created an experience no one would have believed had it not been recorded. Beautiful.”
Others declared it was not rude for Jianwei to sing the male tenor’s part in the song. One commenter said, “To those who think he was rude or impolite – you are wrong. He was not singing her parts. He was singing a part that has been missing which completes the entire piece. It was an unplanned encore piece. Also, it’s not like he was just a random guy. He is a trained tenor. Unexpected? Sure, but not rude.”
Another added, “Liu Jianwei is right that this isn’t something you should just do. Still, because he is clearly a skilled opera singer himself, he managed to create a really beautiful moment. Hearing Lisette work off another human voice just adds that little bit of magic. So yeah, while I agree with him that he shouldn’t do it again, nor anyone else, I am glad this little moment of deep mutual love for opera exists.”
This story highlights the international confluences in opera singing, featuring a Chinese music student who bravely supported the performance of his musical idol, the Cuban American soprano Lisette Oropesa.
While the duet may have been inappropriate by conventional opera standards, the performance was heartfelt, and was received with sheer delight, gratitude, and utter professionalism by the renowned singer.
It was clearly a beautiful moment in opera that was widely enjoyed and appreciated by opera enthusiasts worldwide.
Watch the incredible moment in the video below: