Today’s opera star has to be fit, which probably explains why Elizabeth Caballero eyes, but does not eat, the two small croquetas she’s ordered on a cool, golden November morning at La Carreta in Key Biscayne.
She instead sticks with dipping long slices of Cuban bread into her café con leche while explaining how a working-class Cuban-American came to Florida on the Mariel boatlift in 1980 as a child, fell in love with opera, and decided to pursue the diva’s life.
And she’s well on her way. The New Yorker’s Alex Ross, praising her performance this past October as the doomed slave girl Liù in a Lyric Opera of Kansas City production of Puccini’s Turandot, wrote that she “has sung only one small role at the Met stage… but deserves to ascend farther.”
Caballero had never heard of Ross before friends told her about the review. “But everybody has been asking me how much money I gave [him],” says Caballero, who’s friendly and direct with an easy laugh. She adds that receiving the adulation of an audience is reward enough for what she does. “When you get a review like that, it’s just icing on top of an amazing red velvet cake.”
This month, Caballero stars as Magda in Florida Grand Opera’s staging of Puccini’s La Rondine, a tale of a woman in pursuit of a dream who takes up with a younger man but ultimately realizes she must return—like the swallow of the opera’s title—to her older, wealthier paramour. LaRondine has mostly languished since its 1917 premiere, but in the past decade has enjoyed a major revival. It’s an opera Caballero believes in, and not solely for its scrumptious music.
“It’s more of a realistic story in today’s society,” she says. “[Magda] is just out for her own pleasure. She does not think about the consequences she’s bringing to her lover. It’s all about her.”
After finishing LaRondine in February, Caballero heads to Austin Lyric Opera in April for another Liù in Turandot, then to Colorado’s Central City Opera in July to play Mimì in Puccini’s La Bohème. And in 2014, she’ll sing Donna Elvira in Mozart’s Don Giovanni for Seattle Opera.
Caballero, who is technically based right here in Miami, stays with friends and family during her frequent local performances. Looking ahead, she would like to sing more at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, and also wants to increase her European credits, her only one now being a 2008 production of La Rondine in Trieste, Italy.
She says she loves being constantly on the go, despite the obvious drawbacks. “All I know is that I really like it. And even if you don’t care for opera, you still can’t say, ‘That girl can’t sing,’” she says, giggling. “And I like that.” La Rondine, January 21–February 4, Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami, 305-854-7890; fgo.org