I love Carmen and the fact she lives completely in her own skin. How many of us can say that? She is playful with life and enjoys the gift of being a woman. She uses her intellect, charm, craftiness, sense of humor and sexuality as weapons, if need be. She has so much fun with all of it and never, ever apologizes. She is freedom itself.
But much as I love singing Carmen, I am also frustrated telling her story musically: We never see Carmen alone to peer into who she really is. She has the fun music – the “Habanera” is with the chorus, the “Seguidilla” (or the “Quesadilla,” as I call it) is with Don José. She is always surrounded by frenzy, conflict and chaos; it is part of what makes her so exciting. Carmen is all of these things, but not only. I would love to have a serious contemplative aria to sing with great sustained high notes and lush lines, because she is deeper than what is sometimes illustrated in her music.
I’ve always wondered what music Bizet must have thrown away – the “Habanera,” her big number with chorus was his fourth choice for that piece. Would the other arias have shown another part of her that we’ll never know?
Each time I play her, I search for something new, some truth for myself, and I always discover a fresh detail: a new voice in the orchestration, a new color, new meaning in my lines. That, coupled with my vocal responsibility, always makes the role challenging, exciting, and engaging. I am never bored (which, is the second question that I am often asked).
When it comes down to her most essential characteristics, Carmen is courageous and fatalistic, and she takes the state of her life into her own hands, all the more so when circumstances challenge her to rise up in ways she didn’t expect. By the end of the opera she’s actually demanding to be killed, to repay her Gypsy debt. She creates her own destiny, and to inhabit her as I do provides me with awesome perspective. Carmen has come to me by no coincidence. She’s been a gift to me the whole of my life – my professional and private lives – and filtering her through the lens of my experience has created a stronger woman in me.