The moment that rising basketball star Jeanette Vecchione realized she wanted to be an opera singer came, awkwardly enough, during a high school basketball game, when she sang the National Anthem at half-court. So she traded basketball for the twinkling lights of the stage.
Soprano Lisette Oropesa, a self-professed lifelong "band geek," committed to shed at least 85 pounds when teachers at the Metropolitan Opera's Young Artist Program warned her that her girth would limit her career. Now, she runs marathons.
Both sopranos are starring in Florida Grand Opera's production of "The Magic Flute," playing Thursday and Saturday at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. But they also share another passion beyond their careers: They love their athleticism as much as they do belting buoyant arias.
"They told me, 'Your weight will get in the way of your career,' " recalls Oropesa, 29, who's making her FGO debut as the dewy Pamina, the daughter of the Queen of the Night who is kidnapped by an evil sorcerer.
Oropesa's tenacious musicianship was probably "inherited," she says, from her Cuban family: Her grandfather was an amateur tenor, her mom was an opera soprano, her father was a guitarist and her younger sister plays piano. But the Louisiana-raised singer was surrounded by rich Southern cooking and little reason to exercise ("I'll be damned if I'm going to run in 95-degree heat," she recalls with a laugh). But her Metropolitan Opera audition at age 21 convinced her to lose some of her 210 pounds. In December, she finished her first marathon, crossing the ticker tape alongside her husband.
"Now, I'm addicted to staying healthy," says Oropesa, who's also a vegan. "I love to sing, but long-distance running is what I do to relieve the stress. I'm not competing for any prizes. It's purely to make myself a healthier person."
Playing the Queen of the Night in the Mozart-composed singspiel, Vecchione, a soprano coloratura, says the part is vocally demanding. She's performed the role before, but even so, she never imagined an opera career a decade earlier, when her point-guard skills were so tight that even "college basketball teams were scouting me." The New York native sacrificed basketball after nailing her vocal auditions at Juilliard.
"But there's a crazy connection between sports and singing," says Vecchione, now 28 and a long-distance runner. "There's a lot of pressure onstage, and for that, I fall back on my athleticism. You have to perform with a sprinter's energy right from the start."
Florida Grand Opera's "The Magic Flute" takes place 7:30 p.m. Thursday and 8 p.m. Saturday at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., in Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $60-$200. Call 954-462-0222 or go to BrowardCenter.org.