Whether being hailed as “mesmerizing” (Classical Voice of North Carolina), “magnificently bell-toned” (Capital Critics Circle), or “a clear standout” (San Francisco Classical Voice), soprano Lara Ciekiewicz is making her mark as a dynamic singing-actress. The upcoming season sees Lara take on the title role in Janáček’s Jenůfa for Pacific Opera Victoria, directed by Atom Egoyan. She returns to Opera on the Avalon as Cinderella in Into the Woods. She makes her Virtuosi Concerts debut in a program for soprano, piano, and string quartet. Lara also makes her company and role debuts as Tatiana in Eugene Onegin for Calgary Opera. Finally, she is happy to be reunited with her Salute to Vienna!, Winnipeg Singers, and Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra families for various concerts throughout the season.
Last season saw Lara debut as the Sound of Music’s irrepressible Maria for Opera on the Avalon. With a nod to her Polish heritage, she was part of a wonderful program of music for the Paderewski Music Society. The past season also brought Lara’s first major Verdi role - Amelia in Simon Boccanegra for Pacific Opera Victoria. She rejoined her Salute to Vienna! family for concerts in Los Angeles and San Diego, and made her Vancouver Opera debut as La Contessa in Le nozze di Figaro.
This summer I had a chance to sit down to a cup of tea with Lara to talk. She is such a warm giving person and her passion for her art, as well as for gardening struck me. I asked her about her approach to health and fitness as a singer and this is some of what she shared with me.
FS: What does your daily fitness routine consist of?
LC: It’s very basic, but it works for me. I walk almost every morning, anywhere from 5-10km depending on the day. I have a small exercise circuit I do 4-5 days a week with a stability ball, focussing on core strength. It only takes about 10 minutes, but it is something I can reasonably commit to, no matter where I am. If I don’t have access to a stability ball, I can modify the exercises to do them without it.
TFS: Do you have a favourite exercise or activity?
I love walking! And gardening!
TFS: You mentioned gardening is a favourite activity. Do you have a vegetable garden? What do you grow?
LC: I grow annuals, perennials, and yes, vegetables and herbs! I really love gardening. It teaches you life lessons, while at the same time rewarding you with amazing flowers and food. I also find it very grounding. For veggies, I grow tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, beans, green onions, and herbs. Some years I’ll do lettuces and beets, too. I’m thinking of trying ground cherries next year!
TFS: What do you typically eat? Do you have a specific diet or nutrition plan?
LC: I’m pretty omnivorous. My husband and I try to make most things we eat from scratch, but we don’t stick to a specific nutrition plan. Everything in moderation. We like Michael Pollan’s advice: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. And by “food”, he means real food. And stay well hydrated!
TFS: What impact have you noticed on your voice from your healthy lifestyle?
LC: I just feel better when I keep active and am eating well. If I feel better, I will generally sing better. That’s pretty vague but for example, if I’ve been eating a little too much rich food, my stomach just doesn’t feel as happy and sometimes I’ll lack some energy. Just like, if I’ve taken time off from walking or doing my circuit, I can tell that my body misses it - the walking especially. The walking helps to get me going every day, it lets me spend more morning time with my husband (who also walks a lot), and it helps me process things - memorizing music, clearing the brain fog, planning out the day, whatever it may be. It’s all a matter of balance.
TFS: You had mentioned you have a fitness routine while traveling. Could you share it with us?
LC: It’s the same as above. I’ll figure out a route to walk every day and continue to do my little circuit, with or without the stability ball.
TFS: When you are traveling, how do you ensure you are eating right?
LC: If the contract is long, I must have accommodations with access to a kitchen so I can cook for myself. That is the best way to maintain your eating routine. If that isn’t an option on shorter contracts, I will keep my eating out very simple - nothing too heavy or rich. Even in most fast food restaurants you can find some eggs and a decent, fresh salad.
TFS: What do you do on a performance day?
LC: I like to keep my performance days as close to any other day as possible in terms of physical activity and eating. I often make a simple omelette and salad of fresh greens before a show. I also like having a banana at intermission - they’re tasty, they don’t mess your lipstick, and they give you a nice little boost of energy for the second half! I also tend not to have any alcohol the day before a show. It isn’t because I can’t sing well if I had a drink the night before but rather, if anything ever happened during a performance (*knocks on wood…) I would never want to wonder if it was because I had that drink the night before. Other than that, the only exception might be that I wouldn’t sing a lot prior to a performance. It all depends on what I am performing, though.
TFS: What’s your guilty pleasure?
LC: Bacon. Good bacon…..but I still don’t eat a lot of it so I really don’t feel terribly guilty - LOL!
TFS: What advice do you have for other singers?
LC: Be kind to yourself. Figure out what works for you. Listen to your body and listen to your gut. Work hard. Do the best you know and when you know better, do better. We are all works in progress.
TFS: What have you found to be your most physically demanding performance?
LC: Hmmm…..good question! I think I have to give that honour to singing Maria in the Sound of Music for Opera on the Avalon. Once that show starts, you pretty much never stop until the end - you’re either on stage singing, acting, and dancing your face off with seven adorable kids or you’re backstage in a quick change. It’s intense but so rewarding.
TFS: Do you have a favourite healthy recipe that you could share?
LC: Quinoa Salad with Corn and Black Beans
(Sorry I don't have the original source. It was passed on to me a very long time ago)
Quinoa is a very nutritious grain that grows in the Andes mountains. This delicious, lively salad combines quinoa with black beans, corn, red onion, and bell peppers.
This quinoa salad recipe takes two staples of American Southwest cooking — black beans and corn — and pairs it with cumin-infused, spicy lime vinaigrette.
Served with grilled chicken or pork, this would make a tasty and easy summer meal, not to mention a great take-along to your next BBQ.
*As a note, quinoa can be found at most grocery stores and health food stores near the other grains.
1 ½ cups dry quinoa
½ chicken bouillon cube (optional) (The Fit Singer edit: make plant-based by using veggie bouillion)
1/3 cup finely diced red onion
1 (540ml) can low-sodium black beans, drained and rinsed
1- 1 ½ cup fresh or frozen sweet corn kernels, thawed
1 - 2 pints grape tomatoes, sliced in half
1 finely diced red pepper (optional)
2 oz low-fat feta cheese, crumbled (optional) (The Fit Singer edit: make plant-based by using a vegan feta-style cheez)
Optional Protein Booster: 2 cups diced or shredded cooked chicken breast (The Fit Singer edit: make plant-based by using baked tofu or tempeh)
Vinaigrette for Quinoa Salad
2 TBS olive, walnut or avocado oil
3 TBS lime juice (the juice of about two limes)
2 TBS water
1-2 fresh garlic cloves, minced or 1 tsp jarred minced garlic
1 TBS cumin
1 tsp Epazote (Optional)
1 tsp dried Mexican or Greek oregano
1 tsp chili powder, Ancho Chili Powder or Chipotle Powder
1 tsp sea salt
Fresh ground pepper to taste
Rinse and drain quinoa in cold water 3 times. Place quinoa and 3 cups (2 ¼ c. for crunchier quinoa) fresh water in 1 1/2 quart saucepan and bring to boil (add some salt and ½ a chicken bouillon cube for extra flavour, if desired). Reduce to simmer, cover and cook until all water is absorbed (about 15-30 minutes.) Remove from heat, let cool and fluff with a fork.
While quinoa is cooking, prepare the vinaigrette by combining the vinaigrette ingredients in a small bowl and whisking until well combined.
In a very large bowl, combine the cooled quinoa grain with the remaining ingredients (red onion, black beans, corn, tomatoes and chicken breast and feta cheese, if using).
Pour vinaigrette over the salad, and mix until well combined.
Serve as an entree or as a side salad with a main course.
Chill leftovers for quick lunches and dinners later in the week.
Quinoa Salad Nutrition Facts:
Eight servings (2 cups per serving) - Includes chicken breast and feta
Amount Per Serving:
Total Fat: 9.0 g
Saturated Fat: 1.4 g
Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.8 g
Monounsaturated Fat: 3.0 g
Cholesterol: 36.7 mg
Sodium: 146.4 mg
Potassium: 469.2 mg
Total Carbohydrate: 51.5 g
Dietary Fiber: 8.4 g
Sugars: 4.2 g
Protein: 26.6 g
The views of our guests do not necessarily reflect the view of The Fit Singer and are for information purposes only. They are not to be taken as medical or health advice. When making changes to your diet or lifestyle please seek professional assistance.