Reflections from Soprano Lara Ciekiewicz on Creating Art during a Pandemic 

Since stages went dark in March, Manitoba Opera has been striving to create meaningful performance opportunities for local artists whose livelihoods have disappeared. Thanks to generous donors and sponsors, the company has been able to continue to connect people through the power of opera. Initiatives like the outdoor summer concert in the ruins of the St. Boniface Cathedral, the Opera in the Garden videos, and the recently live-streamed concert, The Sopranos of Winnipeg, (a first for the company!) have provided some singing opportunities for artists in this community. 

One such artist, soprano Lara Ciekiewicz, shares her thoughts on how meaningful it has been to perform for an audience again and what the pandemic has been like for singers. 

Lara Ciekiewicz as Susannah in the Manitoba Opera presentation of Susannah in 2019. Photo by R. Tinker.

About Lara Ciekiewicz

Winnipeg-born and raised, Lara Ciekiewicz holds a Masters in Music (Opera) from McGill University, a Bachelor of Arts – Honours (Voice) from the University of Winnipeg, and is an alumna of l’Atelier lyrique de l’Opéra de Montréal. 

Hailed last fall for her “tour-de-force performance” (Winnipeg Free Press) in the title role of Manitoba Opera’s Susannah, Lara has established herself as a dynamic, intelligent, and moving singing-actress. 

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Q. What does being an opera singer mean to you?

Lara: Being an opera singer means telling stories that have the power to touch, move, and connect people. I think there is something magical about the unamplified human voice – something that can hit us at our core, disarm us, and open us up to wonder. This, in turn, can allow us to consider new perspectives, other folks’ points of view and their stories, which ultimately create an opportunity to understand more about the human condition. I think this is as true for those of us on the stage, as those in the audience. 

It is a great privilege to share stories through music.

Q. We know that performers and the entertainment industry have been hard hit by COVID-19. How has the pandemic impacted you, professionally and personally?

Lara: It is a very surreal time. Opera is an art form that largely depends on the ability to gather in person, both to create, rehearse, and perform, and that is the very thing we cannot now do. The performing arts have been hit so hard by the pandemic. We are a large ecosystem of professional artists that extend far beyond what you see on the stage. Each has their gift to bring to the process, and each makes the result that much more rich. 

Personally, I have lost every contract I had on the books prior to the pandemic. I am grateful to our companies for trying to find ways to continue to make art, and to support their artists. I am also very grateful for every person who has continued to support their arts organizations in whatever way they can through this. 

That said, we are in an extremely delicate balancing act. We have been given the time to reflect on where our art form needs to go, and how it should grow. We have been given the time to focus on our craft in ways that we can’t always when we are at full tilt. We know that times of great upheaval can also bring about great innovation. However, the opportunities to generate any income are sparse. As with any time of uncertainty, you wonder: What should the plan be moving forward?

Q. Since the pandemic hit, you have been featured in three Manitoba Opera initiatives: the Concert in the Cathedral Ruins, the Opera in the Garden video series, and The Sopranos of Winnipeg livestream concert. What has it meant to you to be able to perform?

Lara: Performing has allowed me to connect with so many people within this community. When that ability went away, it left a hole. To be able to sing for a live audience again has been very special – that I got to do it in my own community made it even more so. 

I see performing as connecting. This asks that I put the focus outside of myself and on the work. When I do that, dark times seem a little less bleak. As much as I hope this work can allow an audience to take what it needs from the stage, I know it also helps and changes me for the better.