Lara Ciekiewicz keeps her feet planted in prairie soil
By Candice G. Ball
Soprano Lara Ciekiewicz inhabits two worlds. As an opera singer and performer, she enters a classical world of theatrical opulence, often performing in elegant gowns and sparkling jewels. As a Winnipegger, she digs in her garden and doesn’t mind dirt under her fingernails.
“There’s a very down-to-earth Winnipeg sensibility. It informs how I act and react,” she reflects. “Being on stage in front of a bunch of people who are clapping for you can get a little heady.”
She stays grounded by living in Winnipeg with her husband when she doesn’t have to tour. “My head’s in the clouds, but I don’t live there. My feet are planted on Manitoba soil. I’m a prairie girl at heart.”
Ciekiewicz will be able to stay “home” this fall and into early winter. In October, she performs at Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra’s weeklong Mahlerfest. In November, she takes on the role of the Countess in Manitoba Opera’s production of The Marriage of Figaro.
Her preparation for the role includes reading the original plays. “It’s always cool to see the genesis of the piece and how it gets transformed into a score for the opera world.” Preparation also involves learning the music. Although she has performed some of the songs in the past, she has never done the show.
“It’s putting together what I already know and working with where I am at today. Your voice changes and you have to rework it into your body,” she says.
Ciekiewicz describes the Countess as a fiery, spirited woman who finds herself in trying circumstances. Ciekiewicz’s first piece as the Countess is a lament and her challenge as a performer will be to portray the Countess as a character with whom the audience connects.
Before a performance, she likes to look at the empty seats and wonder who will attend, what stories they will bring and what they will take away from the opera. She views opera as an engaging vehicle for evoking emotions and telling stories.
Although she loves opera, Ciekiewicz did not grow up wanting to be an opera singer. As a teenager she planned on becoming a chiropractor. A conversation with one of her brothers changed her career path. He asked her what she really wanted to do if money wasn’t a deciding factor. She said, “I want to be a singer.” Her brother said, “Then why aren’t you doing that?”
Ciekiewicz grew up singing, dancing and performing, but it wasn’t until she pursued a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Winnipeg in music that she received formal voice lessons. She wanted to be the next Sarah McLachlan.
“That’s when I discovered I had a facility for classical singing. That’s also when I discovered I was a really bad songwriter, but a great interpreter.” During one of her classical voice lessons, her teacher made a proclamation, “I think you may be an opera singer.”
Ciekiewicz went on to complete a Master’s degree in opera from McGill University. She has been an opera singer for about 12 years now and has garnered accolades in her hometown and across North America.
In June 2015, the Winnipeg Arts Council recognized her achievements and she won the RBC On the Rise Award for “making her mark as a compelling singer-actress on opera and concert stages across North America.”
Being a professional opera singer does mean extensive travel, but Ciekiewicz’s own marriage remains strong. “You do travel a lot and that can be tough on relationships. I am fortunate to have a partner who’s supportive and who gets it.”
She attributes her success as a performer to some raw talent and a strong work ethic. “It’s part talent—it’s something you’re given—but I strongly believe that it’s so much more what you do with what you’re given.”
Ciekiewicz sees an abundance of talent in Winnipeg and a thriving, supportive arts scene. The scene allows her to live with her head in the clouds with her feet firmly planted on Winnipeg soil or snow.