Lara Ciekiewicz as the title role in Pacific Opera Victoria's production of Janáček’s Jenůfa (Photo by David Cooper)
"In reflecting, I began to see how specific actions had contributed to my feeling of success, and the lightbulb went off!"
I did an audition this week. It was an important one. In the lead up to the audition, I was trying to write this piece - but I was stuck. How to express what NUOVA has meant in my life? I still didn't have the answer. Well - I sang that audition. I sang it, made music with a beautiful pianist (Tina Chang, you rock!), and connected. It felt amazing. After the adrenaline subsided, it gave me pause to consider why I had felt successful. In reflecting, I began to see how specific actions had contributed to my feeling of success, and the lightbulb went off! So many of these actions came from tools and ways of thinking that were nurtured at NUOVA. In no particular order, here are some of the most important points...
Left: Opera on the Avalon's Ours with Lara Ciekiewicz as May, and Adam Fisher ad Edward (Photo by Alick Tsui) Right: Opera on the Avalon's Sound of Music with Lara Ciekiewicz as Maria and Kevin Aichele as Captain Von Trapp (Photo by OOTA)
"NUOVA taught me that even when you feel up against a wall, a little bravery might be enough to show you the door to a next step."
1. Be brave. NUOVA taught me to step into the unknown with a curious mind, and a courageous heart. Wherever we are in our journeys, a bit of bravery goes a long way - learn that new aria, sing in a new language or style, ask questions, practice with creativity and play and analyze afterwards. If we don't step out of what we already know, we are less apt to grow. NUOVA taught me that even when you feel up against a wall, a little bravery might be enough to show you the door to a next step. This week, my bravery came in the form of starting with an aria that is not my usual audition starter. It required trust, preparation, and for me to step a bit outside my comfort zone - and it paid off. Hello, growth!
Musetta in Edmonton Opera's La Bohème (Photo by Nanc Price)
"This work is never done, but the work I began at NUOVA continues to push me to dare more greatly. All I can be is me."
2. Dare to be yourself. NUOVA is not a program that is interested in creating artistic homogeneity. From the beginning, NUOVA has been about exploring who YOU are as a person and as an artist. What qualities do you bring to the table? What qualities do you wish to cultivate? What lights your artist's soul on fire? It began to teach me that those who are true to themselves often have a light that shines brightly. It's the kind of light that draws people to their art, allowing true connection to happen. For me, beginning the honest, and sometimes difficult work of figuring out who I wanted to be as an artist started at NUOVA. This work is never done, but the work I began at NUOVA continues to push me to dare more greatly. All I can be is me. I might as well be the best, fullest "me" possible, since no one else can do this for me. This week, I stayed true to myself. It grounded, and connected me to other people in the room in the best possible way.
"Sing for your life."
3. Set goals. Goal-setting comes in many timelines. This week, I set very specific goals for what I wanted to achieve in my audition. None of them had to do with the resulting product of the audition - ultimately this is out of my control. They all had to do with actionable items I could achieve in the moment, in a positive way, and then reflect upon afterwards. It gave me a way of judging success independently of securing a contract. Would I love to work with every company I sang for? Absolutely, yes. But that can't be the only metric of success. NUOVA taught me strategies for framing stressful situations, and goal-setting was a big part of this. At the core, this meant cultivating responsibility for the things within my control: my level of craft, my preparation, how I care for myself, how I interact with others, and how I perform. And what were my goals this week? Be honest. Be grateful. Be yourself. See the humans sitting at the tables across from you, not their titles. Connect human to human. Share your love of what you do. Sing for your life.
Title role in Manitoba Opera's Susannah with Michael Hendrick as Little Bat (Photo by R. Tinker)
"At NUOVA, I learned that on even the most difficult days, if I could name one thing/person/experience I was grateful for, I could find the next step to overcoming adversity."
4. Say thank you. None of us pursue our art alone. Even though we spend a good deal of time in solo work, there is an immense village of people that nurture us, help us grow, and help us create and connect. This community is not to be taken for granted. Ever. When you have the opportunity to say thank you, do it. Often. Gratitude is a gift that gives in all directions. Recipients of gratitude get to understand their impact on you, and they feel seen. In offering gratitude, we get to reflect on what we've learned, how we've grown, and our relationships with the people who have helped us along the way. At NUOVA, I learned that on even the most difficult days, if I could name one thing/person/experience I was grateful for, I could find the next step to overcoming adversity. And what is a journey but a series of steps, one after the other? Gratitude shifts our focus from us, to those around us. For me, the brilliant thing is that it can be present through all emotional states, while still honouring whatever emotion we are experiencing in the moment. NUOVA helped remind me just how powerful this can be. This week, I began my audition with gratitude. Two and a half years into a pandemic it felt amazing just to say, "Thank you for being here." to everyone in the room. In a setting where opposite sides of the table can feel like adversaries, gratitude allowed me to connect on a human level.
Left: Tatyana in Calgary Opera's Eugene Onegin Right: Countess in Fargo Moorhead Opera's Le nozze di Figarro
"I don't know what the future holds for our art form. But I know the connections our art can foster are special, and worth fighting for."
5. Connect. NUOVA connected me to colleagues, friends, mentors, and collaborators. It created a shared experience that gave me perspective into how I might fit into the whole of this creative art form. It fostered relationship building in the work, and also in how it brought people together from all across the country. We shared, we learned, we made mistakes, we learned how to do better, we dreamed, and we pushed ourselves to reach for the best we could be in any given moment. What a gift to give someone: a place to feel safe, connect, fail, learn, fail again, learn more, succeed, and realize that this cycle is a lifelong process of learning and growing. It also modelled the connection that I so value in my own art-making. I'm not interested in art in a vacuum. I'm interested in art that connects us all. The connections I learned to foster at NUOVA helped me grow into the artist I am today. They remind me that if I can connect human to human in any situation, the shared experience will always make me greater than I could be alone.
The business of this art can be hard. Even more so in the last few years. And I say this as someone who still holds a great deal of privilege in this art form. I don't know what the future holds for our art form. But I know the connections our art can foster are special, and worth fighting for. Just as I know that difficult times still await us. However, if I can be brave, stay true to myself, stay open, keep learning, look forward, connect, collaborate, and be grateful? Then, just then, might I be able to keep earning my place in this community, while growing it forward.
With gratitude to my many mentors, teachers, colleagues, supporters of all kinds, and fellow-NUOVA villagers. Whatever your connection to NUOVA, you matter. And I'm grateful for you. Thank you for all you do. Every bit of connection brings us all closer together. Connection fosters community. In community, magic happens. Let's use our stories to keep creating magic that connects us all.
Lara Ciekiewicz in Opera NUOVA's production of Susannah (2005)
Lara Ciekiewicz is a soprano working in opera, orchestral, recital, musical theatre, and non-traditional contexts throughout North America. She has established herself as a dynamic, intelligent, and moving singing-actress. Her facility for fully transforming into a character, regardless of genre, has earned her the reputation of being an artistic chameleon. Lara serves as a Voice Instructor at the University of Manitoba's Desautels Faculty of Music, and is increasingly in demand as an adjudicator and teacher. Lara also enjoys gardening, is an avid walker, loves fabulous footwear, and is a self-professed prairie-girl forever.
Headshot by Rebecca Schroeder