Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Elizabeth Caballero, Soprano: A Diamond Now Polished

When The Mariel boatlift exodus left Cuba some years ago, it carried a young Elizabeth Caballero to American soil.   The emigration seemed to plant her in just the spot in which she was meant to be: Miami, Florida. Her musical journey in the sunny city began with high school choirs and glee clubs, followed by working the box office selling tickets at Florida Grand Opera. From the box office she climbed her way up the ladder and sang in the chorus and a few years later, the well-known and prestigious young artist program. Finally at the top, FGO began to hire her as a principal artist, singing dream lyric soprano roles such as Countess, Liu, Mimi and Magda. This is her truly fantastic story, of starting at the very bottom and working hard to reach the top.   

 After seeing, in person, her delicious interpretation of Cio-Cio San, I can see why there is so much attention being given to this gifted soprano. I was delighted to find out that she not only captivated me on the stage, but in person as well. Listening to her speak, with hints of a Cuban accent and a fun loving, and infectious laugh, I was again left captivated as she took me through stories of her career. When I asked about her favorite moment of her career, she didn’t even hesitate before telling me about applying for the Pavarotti competition.  

 “I don’t know what I was thinking, with one year of voice training and here I am filling out this application to sing for this guy who I heard was a big deal in opera. I didn’t even know what I was doing!”

Her courage paid off. Out of 2000 he chose her to be one of 100 finalists that went to sing for him in the finals in Philadelphia. Elizabeth watched as her colleagues took the stage with Pavarotti listening in back and speaking into his “god microphone”. He would let the singers sing their first piece and then he would coach them a bit and give comments.  

“When he came to me, I remember at one point in my second aria he said ‘Elizabeth, you are a diamond that just needs to be polished.’ Whenever I have a bad day I just remember that this man who was probably one of the greatest tenors ever to walk on the face of the earth, who had a voice that sounded like sunshine; thought that I was something special. ‘A diamond that needs polishing? How much better does that get?”

Though she didn’t win this competition, she explains that it is the most pivotal moment in

her career. She had the confirmation she needed to jump into opera with full force. When Pavarotti died in 2007, Elizabeth had been performing nationwide with great success; still with his words in the back of her mind.

 “When I heard of his death I was making my debut at New York City Opera. It was sad because I wanted to meet him again and tell him how much those words meant to me. It meant that he gave me that courage to go and pursue it [opera] further. After that competition, I went to school and then launched my career.”

 Elizabeth is no stranger to the hard work and tenacity it takes to be successful in an operatic singing career. She has sung in the choruses and pushed, and fought and struggled through like the rest of us to get to her dreams. Having experienced that, she still believes that singers should rise above the perception that being a singer is too hard or impossible.  

 “Anything you do in life is hard work, whether you are a doctor or lawyer. Nothing is ever easy. But I don't think you should ever stop trying to accomplish and reaching your dreams because it seems too hard. It’s all hard, no matter what you decide to do in life. You have to work for it. Singing has its unique challenges just like any other field, but that is not a reason to stop trying to pursue it. If that is what you want then go for it.”

 And go for it she did. All the blood sweat and tears culminating to moments like the one she had singing her first Butterfly with the Lyric Opera of Kansas City. Elizabeth had been a bit hesitant to tackle the role because of the power and longevity that comes with singing Puccini,  and the fact that it is such a big sing.

“In reality, if you are a smart singer and you know how to sing with your voice, I think you can do anything.”

So she went for it, and when she came out for her bow, the audience rose to their feet in ovation. She was so moved by the reception that she fell to her knees in shock and gratitude.

 “It felt wonderful. It’s those moments that are the reason in which you go through so much heartache in this business. For that one little moment.”

 With the success in Kansas City, news of her Butterfly traveled fast and she was called last minute to sing it again at the Staatsoper Berlin. Remaining in high demand, Elizabeth’s 2013/2014 season has her singing with several companies nationwide including Hawaii Opera Theater, Florentine Opera, Virginia Opera, Orlando Philharmonic as well as her national debut with the Brazilian Symphony Orchestra.

A long way from ticket sales at FGO and a novice on the stage of the Pavarotti competition. I think Pavarotti would find that this diamond is now polished and shining brightly.



Photo Credits: Cory Weaver, Koke Photography