In 2015 she ran the Pittsburgh Marathon 13 hours after earning rave reviews as Marie in Donizetti’s La Fille du Regiment with the Pittsburgh Opera. Earlier this week, while performing in Brussels, Lisette Oropesa, 35, learned that she would receive this year’s Richard Tucker Award, one of the most prestigious honours for a young opera singer. (The American soprano Renée Fleming is a past recipient.) Oropesa schedules her training and races around her performing schedule, which sees her traveling all over the US and Europe.

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More and more professional musicians are recognizing the benefit of not just physical fitness, but endurance training, to their careers, and not just singers and wind instrument players. At last year’s Hohnens International Piano Competition in Calgary, runner-up Nicolas Namoradze referred to pianists as athletes who must train their bodies to optimize their potential as performers.

Oropesa, who took up running in an effort to deal to lose weight after being advised that her obesity could affect her career potential as a singer, said almost exactly the same thing in a 2013 story in Runner’s World: “My breath control has gone through the roof because my heart rate is low. Singing is exhausting. You’re an athlete, really, on stage for hours.”

It’s very much contrary to the widely-held belief that opera singers are heavy for a reason. “Singers with generous bodies think their breath support must be greater because they are heavier,” Oropesa said, “but actually I find that to be the opposite. Once you learn to use your breath support in a more engaged way because you are not as heavy, you don’t get as tired as often and your heart rate lowers and your breath expanse is a lot better.”

After working hard to get to the point where they could run a full mile without stopping, Oropesa and her now-husband, Steven Harris, kept going, and eventually came to feel that running was “actually the greatest thing that’s ever happened to [her] besides singing.” According to Harris, who we reached by email, they now regularly run at least 32K per week even when not training for a race.

Raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana by her Cuban parents, Oropesa studied flute before switching to voice. With four half-marathons under her belt (and after achieving a sub-two-hour result at the 2012 Yonkers Half-Marathon), she trained for and ran her first marathon in her hometown in 2012, finishing in 4:51. She ran the Goodlife Fitness Toronto Marathon in 2014, finishing in 4:15. She also now follows a vegan diet. She says her goal is to break the four-hour barrier.

Harris tells us he and his spouse plan on racing the Disney Two Course Challenge at the Wine and Dine Half Marathon in Florida this fall. “We will be running the 10K on November 2 and the half-marathon November 3. Coincidentally, this is the first half-marathon we ever ran, so we are looking forward to running it again after eight years.”

Oropesa also says the mental boost she gets from running helps her absorb negative reviews, which are inevitable in her profession. “You get a lot of criticism in this business, and running helps me with that.”

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