On paper, Lisette Oropesa’s program looked prosaic enough — some athletic Haydn to confirm the soprano’s coloratura creds, a couple of sets of romantic lieder, a little Poulenc, a few conservative American songs and a final fun set of folksy Spanish pieces. But there was nothing prosaic about Oropesa’s performance at the University of the District of Columbia’s Theater of the Arts on Saturday under the auspices of Vocal Arts DC.
For someone with the slight build of a marathon runner (she is one, and apparently a very good one, too), Oropesa gives an impression of having limitless resources of vocal power, which, wisely, she managed to keep under wraps for this program while never sounding reined in. She’s a lyric soprano with the kind of seamless voice that can travel smoothly on a single vowel from the bottom of her huge range to the top, arriving pianissimo and in tune — and then sustaining it effortlessly (or so it sounded) for an apparent eternity. This, coupled with astonishingly accurate agility, made Haydn’s “Ragion Nell’alma Siede” something for the opera-lovers in the audience to revel in instead of having to hang on for dear life while hoping for a safe landing. But Oropesa’s open lyric lightness seems to come at the expense of full-bodied warmth and intimacy, and these were missed in the yearning of Schubert’s three “Wilhelm Meister” songs and, to a lesser degree, in the lighter Mendelssohn set.
She didn’t try for a musky “French” sound for the two Poulenc chansons (one a satiric patter song) on bitter texts by Louis Aragon written in the dust of World War II — she left that to her excellent accompanist, Vlad Iftinca, whose crisp but removed presence here provided an ideal landscape. She just tightened her lips, lifted her palate and molded her phrasing fluidly to the inflections of the text, and the poetry emerged.
Perhaps the finest moments in an evening of fine moments came in “La Mi Sola, Laureola,” the first of Fernando Obradors’s “Canciones Clásicas Españolas.” It opens with the singer, unaccompanied, in a dreamy rising line that Oropesa floated out hauntingly. The solo piano interludes between vocal solos, with their Baroque-sounding counterpoint, were delicate in Iftinca’s hands and offered an ideally fey response.
For encores, Oropesa unleashed her true operatic chops gloriously on a Meyerbeer aria, then finished with a reprise of the Poulenc patter song.