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Parent Profile: Sylvia López

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Ian Wisekal

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Sylvia López

It was mid-December and weeks into the local Christmas celebrations, yet the temperature read 85 degrees in Caguas, Puerto Rico, where Sylvia López was calling from. Sylvia, mother of Claudia Díaz, a graduate soprano at Lamont, thought initially that the idea of her daughter coming to Denver was “craziness: first because of the climate, second because of the distance.”

The idea of studying music was also a novelty to Sylvia, whose family, she insists, is not musical in the slightest. The closest musical connection she could trace was to her grandmother—Claudia’s great-grandmother—who lived in New York and was a music lover. But López vowed to support her daughter’s musical interest, wherever it led.

First, this meant leaving the security of a private, Catholic education to enroll Claudia in the Escuela Libre de Música de Caguas, a government-funded music magnet school. This turned out to be a good decision: her daughter showed promise almost immediately. Sylvia remembered that, when Claudia was selected to sing a solo with the school’s choir, the composer of the work thought she must have been a high schooler; she was only 11.

Next, though San Juan seemed far—about 35 minutes down from the central mountains to the city—the mother understood that Puerto Rico’s Conservatorio de Música would be the natural next step for Claudia. At the end of her undergraduate studies, Claudia’s teacher urged her to look beyond the island. Puerto Rico is home to many talented singers, and Sylvia heard that some of her daughter’s peers were going to schools like Juilliard and Yale. But Claudia had met Heidi Melton, an assistant professor of voice at Lamont, and had her sights set on Denver.

Sylvia wanted to ensure a smooth transition, so she flew to Colorado to help her daughter move into her apartment. “The first thing I did,” she remembered, “was take a picture of the mountains from my hotel window. I made that picture my computer background at work.” She found DU’s campus to be beautiful and was charmed by the friendly people she met. “If the campus was nice, the Newman Center was even better,” she said. Denver surprised Sylvia with kindness: several young people, with no relation to Lamont, helped her and Claudia during the move.

Lamont impressed both mother and daughter with the professionalism of its faculty and the support from the voice community among both teachers and students. In the hyper-competitive world of voice, López pointed out, that kind of encouragement is not always a given. Sylvia watched Claudia sing in the livestream of Lamont’s last opera, Rachel Portman’s The Little Prince, and visited to hear her perform solo in Showcase Lamont. The proud mom was taken not only with the quality of the concerts, but also with the development she could hear in her daughter’s voice. “I don’t know anything about music,” Sylvia said, “but even I could tell there was notable growth.”

López works for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and recently returned to Puerto Rico after four months in Guam, which was hit by a Category 4 typhoon in May. Many homes were destroyed, she said, and, even for a native of the tropics, she found the island to be “very hot.” But she enjoys helping people in her work, adding that FEMA, in addition to aiding recovery efforts in the aftermath of floods, fires, and other natural disasters, had been working around the country to help vaccinate people during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Her travel is likely not over yet. As Claudia auditions for opera young artist programs, Sylvia is calculating how much time off from work she will need to help her daughter make the next transition. If Claudia ends up moving to Europe, she will simply ask for more time. “Music, as a profession, requires a lot of investment,” López said, “even the application fees, the travel for auditions and all that.” But, she continued, she and her family have so much faith in the young singer. Though Claudia’s career may take her far from Caguas, Sylvia is happy to see her daughter’s success. Of all the flying, braving the mountain cold, and helping with the next steps, Sylvia said, “I do it with lots of love.”

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