PHOTOS: As The Lyric Opera Opens World's Most Famous Opera, Mezzo-Soprano Tries To Humanize 'Carmen'

Apr 22, 2016

The curtain rises this weekend on Georges Bizet’s Carmen, the Lyric Opera of Kansas City’s final production of the season. At the heart of this story of love, betrayal and revenge is Carmen, the tempestuous Gypsy played by Latvian mezzo-soprano Zanda Švēde.

Bizet’s opera opens in southern Spain and tells the tale of Don José, a young soldier seduced by the fickle charms of Carmen. José gives up everything for her, yet loses Carmen to the charismatic toreador Escamillo. José waits for her outside the bullring in Seville, where Escamillo is performing, and kills her in a jealous rage.

Carmen is a strong female character in opera. Her power rests in her sexuality, and she wields it wherever her capricious nature leads her.

In her Kansas City debut at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, Švēde said she’s learned a great deal about portraying this turbulent character while rehearsing with her fellow singers for the last three weeks.

“For me, it takes a complete connection to my femininity and a focus on sensuality to do this role," Švēde said. "As Latvians say, ‘There is a witch in every woman.’ At the same time, Carmen is youthful and truly human in important moments.”

The opera debuted in 1875 and is fraught with stereotypes of Gypsies, a European minority known today as Roma. Švēde said the key for her has been not forgetting where Carmen comes from, but also not portraying her as an archetype.

Švēde said she hopes Kansas City audiences will see the humanity of the characters.

“Carmen has been performed so frequently and is the most famous opera in the world. I hope that the audience will once again see real people faced with complex desires and choices, not simple stereotypes.”

Lyric Opera of Kansas City’s production of Carmen runs April 23, 27, 29, and May 1, 2016, at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City, Missouri. 

Julie Denesha is a freelance photographer and reporter for KCUR. Follow her @juliedenesha.

The Artists In Their Own Words series is supported by the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency.