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The original seductress an interview with our Carmen

As rehearsals for La tragédie de Carmen get underway, we caught up with mezzo-soprano Niamh O’Sullivan who’s taking on the title role! 

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As rehearsals for La tragédie de Carmenget underway, we caught up with mezzo-soprano Niamh O’Sullivan who’s taking on the title role.  Known for her dynamic stage presence and powerful vocals, Niamh shares her experiences and insights on bringing one of opera’s most iconic figures to life and why Peter Brook’s re-imaging of Bizet’s opera is the one to watch!

What is so special about Peter Brook’s La tragédie de Carmen? 

I love it. It gets to the core of the story much quicker than the original and it cuts out the side characters and just focusses on the main story which makes it very powerful. But the thing that really stood out for me when I first did it at home in Ireland is the orchestration – it sounds like a completely different opera, just because of the orchestration. 

Tell us about your Carmen? 

My feeling is that you can only tell what your Carmen is going to be like on a particular night. In the past when I have sung the role, my Carmen was flirtatious, sometimes she was sweet, and sometimes feisty.  She is sexy and super attractive, of course, but the main thing about her is that she is also super intelligent.  And that’s what I would love to get across more than anything. 

There are so many layers to her and that’s what I find so interesting about her.  She’s a woman that never lies to anyone – even herself – she’s very honest.  And I think her need for freedom is a search for honesty. 

It’s really fun to play a role that people are captivated by. She has this energy and intelligence that draws people to her so easily. 

Tell me about the moment we meet Carmen for the first time? 

Ohhhh, it’s the scariest entrance in any opera, opening the show with one of the most famous opera arias in the world.  You hear that really exposed, intense beat, and everyone is like OMG, this woman.   She’s totally captivating from the very beginning.  The audience and the people on stage are all drawn to her.  She’s like a tiger.  It’s a super scary entrance for sure but I love it. 

How do you square Carmen being both a femme fatale and a victim? 

Interesting. Well, in this production we are showing all the stereotypes of Carmen – the traditional opera gypsy, the seductress, the Barbie, the housewife.  I don’t want to give anything away but we do square it. It’s a really interesting concept and I am really looking forward to exploring it. 

How does the opera resonate with modern audiences?  Is it as relevant now as it always was? 

I think so absolutely.  And I think that’s why Carmen has been so popular over the years. It’s not very far away from real life.  Everyone can relate to something in Carmen. She’s not playing anyone else, she’s herself.  And she is experiencing things we all experience – jealousy, obsession, love, the craving for love.  And being with someone but finding someone else attractive. These are all things that we experience in our everyday lives.  These are the reasons I think Carmen is still so popular today. 

Also, it’s hit after hit, and even if you are not an opera-goer, you are going to know something from it.  And I think that’s another reason why it has kept its popularity until today. 

Are there any moments in particular that you are really looking forward to bringing to life? 

Yes, there are so many,  because Carmen gets all the big tunes!  Of course, there is the famous Toreador aria but the moment I really love so much is the final duet between Jose and Carmen.  I think she really shows her strength here.  She knows it’s not going to end well.  She’s been warned but she still goes to him, confronts him, and she says “no, I don’t love you anymore”. And for me, the bravery of that is just so exciting to play.  She knows he is going to kill her and she still faces him and says I don’t love you. It’s electric. This moment is definitely one of the highlights for me. 

Why is Buxton’s Carmen the one to see this summer? 

This version will bring you straight to the core of the story.  You’ll go through every range of emotions in just 90 minutes.  It’s extraordinary and a show you won’t want to miss.