Lisette Oropesa is a stunning soprano, compelling actress, and a true operathlete. In addition to being an extremely successful and sought-after opera singer, Ms. Oropesa is also an avid runner/marathoner. You can imagine what an honor it is to have had the opportunity to interview such an impressive performer, athlete, and role model.
Ms. Oropesa has performed a myriad of “dream roles” with the Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera, Santa Fe Opera, Opéra National de Paris, the Bayerische Staatsoper, and Florida Grande Opera, to name a few. She is also a graduate of The Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, and was a winner of The Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in 2005. To learn more about Lisette Oropesa, visit her website at http://lisetteoropesa.com/.
As an athlete, Ms. Oropesa has been featured by Runner’s World on multiple occasions. In addition to having completed six marathons (the most recent of which she completed the morning after her debut in La Fille du Régiment with Pittsburgh Opera), Ms. Oropesa has completed a number of shorter races, and has an impressive and inspiring fitness and weight loss journey. You can imagine why this marathon-running soprano is a true operathlete! I feel so lucky and honored to be able to share this feature with you. Thank you, Lisette Oropesa, for sharing your wisdom with OPERATHLETIC!
Q: When did you begin your fitness journey? What inspired you to start?
A: I grew up eating the worst foods and not exercising. By the time I got to college I weighed over 200 pounds and it kept creeping up till I was popping out of a size 16. I had many people give me advice about my habits but I didn’t feel motivated enough to change. Then I won the most prestigious opera competition and joined the Metropolitan Opera’s young artist program when I was 21. I was fresh out of college, ready to start one of the top programs in the world. They sat me down and gave me the advice that would forever change my life: that I needed to lose weight because where I was at, it could negatively affect my career. I took it to heart because I did not come that far and have that opportunity just to give it all up because I couldn’t stop eating cheeseburgers. I signed up for a gym that summer and even though I had no idea what I was doing, I hopped on the elliptical machine and imitated the girl next to me. Then I figured out the weight machines. The first day I could only do 12 minutes of cardio, but I got stronger. I went almost every day for 3 months and lost my first 25 pounds in the first summer. My 2nd season in the young artist program, they were so proud of me for getting started, I felt motivated to continue, and my habits began to get more solid and I continued to drop the weight. It took me 5 years to get from 210 pounds to about 135. Then I started running and lost 10 more pounds. I’ve been that weight ever since and have maintained it for 5 years.
Q: How would you describe your weekly exercise routine?
A: Fitness habits have shifted depending on where I am, and of course, are very different now than when I was a beginner. I used to be much more of a gym rat, but now I am almost exclusively an outdoors exerciser. Currently because I travel so much, and because I train for distance, most of my workouts are runs. As a base, I run about 20 miles per week, and do some at home yoga.
Q: Do you follow a specific diet or nutritional plan?
A: Yes. I am 100% plant based and eat as much raw food as possible. I love the occasional vegan junk food but that is a very rare treat. My breakfast is almost always a smoothie, a fruit bowl with or without granola, and coffee. Lunch is almost always a salad or something light, or I snack throughout the day until dinner, which is my favorite meal of the day. My husband and I love to cook so we make a night out of it, every night! I don’t really count calories, as I am not trying to lose weight any more, but I do keep track of what kind of things are going in, and try to maintain balance. I’ve recently also gone gluten free (except for the very occasional beer) and it has helped with some bloating issues I had been having. No more bloating in the mornings! I try to focus on what I can eat, rather than on what I can’t eat. It’s a more positive outlook and keeps variety in my diet.
Q: From weight loss to running multiple marathons, it seems you’ve truly had the “dream” exercise career! Do you have any tips for those just starting their own fitness journeys?
A: The day you are ready to begin, you have to be doing it because it was YOUR decision, not because you’re just being pressured. And that will continue every day as long as you maintain this lifestyle. You have to become self-motivated. Don’t rely on an external force to get you going. It’s nice to be part of a group if you’re in a place where your job is steady, and you can say, go to a spin class 3x a week as a routine. But if you are traveling or your hours are constantly shifting (i.e, you’re a musician) then you have to be responsible for keeping your workouts consistent. If you do decide to go to a gym, go and be fearless. Don’t compare yourself to anybody else and judge yourself. You never know how long a person’s journey has been, and every single person in that gym, no matter how fit they are, was a beginner once. It’s never too late!
Also, if your goal truly is weight loss, then be more mindful of what you eat than what kind of exercise you like to do. Whether it’s cardio, weights, cycling, zumba, you name it, you will get the most out of it if you keep your diet as clean as possible. Try a new vegetable each week, focus on “making over” one meal at a time, and look up recipes and ideas online. There is so much food porn out there!
Q: Do you have a favorite brand of exercise gear?
A: My Garmin watch goes everywhere with me. I also adore Lululemon running bras (though they keep redesigning them and changing on me!) and their running shirts are my all time favorite. And of course, their yoga clothes are phenomenal. For more straight running gear, my favorite shorts are from The North Face. Some of the best running shoes I’ve ever had were Adidas, Mizuno, or Saucony. My husband loves New Balance shoes. Favorite socks are Smart Wool, because they work for all types of weather and moisture levels, and they come in varying levels of thickness. Smart Wool also makes amazing winter running clothes. So does Sugoi. I’m still searching for my favorite running belt. For now I use Nathan, and like it a lot; not a whole lot of choices really.
Q: Do you believe that your fitness journey has had a positive influence on your operatic career? How so?
A: Oh yes. Not only has it made me look better, I have more energy onstage and hardly ever sweat or overheat, my heart rate stays down, my breathing is deeper and more settled (thanks, yoga!) and my general body awareness makes efficiency of movement much better. I feel that because I lost the weight over a long period of time (5 years) and slowly, I didn’t have to re-learn how to sing in my new body. I never had a radical shift or loss in support. In fact, my singing feels more free and supported, my technique has gotten better…so much attributed to body awareness! It’s really an athletic activity, what we do.
There’s also the notoriety that has come, totally on its own, with following a healthy lifestyle. People reach out and share their stories, other young singers, fans, on a regular basis. And it keeps surprising me, because when I get up in the morning and run, nobody is watching. But still somehow, I’m reminded that I am not alone on this journey.
Q: How do you find the balance between leading a healthy lifestyle and keeping up with your busy performance schedule?
A: Well, you have to take matters into your own hands. If you want to keep it up despite all the shifts you will be experiencing, you have to have a rock solid foundation. That said, you have to be okay with variety. Consistent variety. Some days I run at 6am, others at 2, others at 7:30pm. It is totally just whenever I can get it in. But I keep tabs and try to do something, even if it’s a brisk walk, almost every day. The other thing I try to do is give a full rest day (maybe even 2!) each week. I also don’t deny myself sleep. Both for vocal and athletic reasons, this is just a given. If I know I have to be singing till midnight, I am not getting up at 6. I also plan my meals in advance and make sure to stop at a grocery store to pick up basics that travel well. This at least keeps me from going hungry or not being able to find something plant based. That can be a challenge! The best thing to do is plan, really…never leave things to chance. If you DO just happen upon a farmer’s market or something, then congratulations! But I always prepare for desert island circumstances. I travel with my blender, a knife, cutting board, tupperware, protein powder (I like Hemp Pro 70) a spiralizer, peeler, and granola bars.
Q: How did you discover your passion for singing?
A: I’ve always loved music, but singing has taken many different forms in my life. I sang in church as a child, I sang pop as a tween, and I sang my own songs in high school. I was not in choir though, until college when I was in the A’Cappella group. Most of my life I was in band because I played the flute, and actually wanted to do that professionally. It turned out I was a more gifted singer and the opportunities kept presenting themselves to me, so eventually I grabbed hold and never let go!
Q: What is your advice for those trying to pursue a career in opera?
A: Do embrace your unique talent and sound. Don’t compare yourself to others. Do try to get as comfortable in the major languages as possible, so you can converse if necessary. Don’t take criticism to heart or let it destroy you. You will get a lot of it, and you have to be able to filter it as non-personal. Do listen to those you trust (a small circle who knows you and your instrument very well is best) and take the advice of those who have your best interest at heart. Don’t be in a rush. Things will unfold in time, and it’s your responsibility to make the most of the present, by preparing for the future. Study, take care of your health, keep an open heart, and be thankful that you have a special gift that the world needs!