By Andrea Gaini
So, I wanted to start us off by talking a bit like you and your relationship with music and theatre and what lead you to decide to start working on this opera.
I was first introduced to music when I was little, through musical theatre and Disney, so performing was always something I have been fascinated by. Then I started learning the piano, which I really enjoyed and that was kind of when I started my classical training as well. I learned how to read music and soon after I started studying singing as well. At first, I was immediately attracted to studying more classical and operatic singing, which over the years has always been a central part of my life, even when I moved to more folk and singer songwriter music. In terms of directing, during my English studies I have always found theatre the most interesting part of the literature we studied and therefore when the opportunity came up to at the operatic society, I went for it because I knew it was going to be a very interesting experience.
Out of all the operas that the society could have chosen, why did you pick such a masterpiece of operatic repertoire?
Yeah, Carmen is very different and a big risk to take because it’s very famous and lots of people might have higher expectations. But we were approached towards the end of last year by Dr. Clair Rowden from the School of Music who asked us whether we wanted to be involved in her study on different productions of Carmen throughout history and we decided that it could be an excellent opportunity for our singers to take part in.
How was the casting and what were you looking for?
Well, for me as the director, acting was a very essential part of it. We asked the auditionees to bring in a piece which was operatic, or at least something that could include some acting and interpretation. I believe that for as much as operas are about the singing, the interpreter needs to have the ability to act out what they are singing about in order to reach the audience.
Casting, and especially choosing between all the people that auditioned, was really difficult. We had so many talented singers auditioning from Cardiff University and also from other music schools around Cardiff. I really wish we had more roles to give out, because there were so many talented singers that deserved a principal role in the opera, which I was extremely happy about. But we had to choose not only based on the talent, but also whether a voice fitted the role or not.
The role of Carmen is a very interesting one, isn’t it? Some have depicted her as a figure of women emancipation, a strong independent woman, and some have also given a fragile and subjugated interpretation of her role. What is your Carmen like?
Ah, really good question. This has been a theme of discussion all throughout the rehearsing process where I and Robin (Carmen) decided how to shape our Carmen. I think that the depiction of the seducer has been hugely overdone and feel like it makes unrelatable and stops people from understanding her. I also think that it leaves an opening for the audience to sympathise with Don Josè, and I think that sympathy for me, is entirely misplaced. Therefore, our Carmen is fragile and shows the scars and marks that war, a recurring theme in this opera, leave on her. Her death at the end kind of a representation of society that crushes her.
What was it like to bring your initial idea of Carmen to the rehearsal and putting it into reality?
It was very interesting, I guess time is very enough, but If I could go back and change something, I would probably try and explain my concept a bit more to the cast.
The set building, however, is going to be the best part, and what will give a definite shape to the production. The set is going to be quite minimalistic as I believe that scenography should not try to be realistic, instead, it should give freedom to the imagination of the audience to flourish.
Where do you see the Operatic Society going after Carmen?
I hope having produced such an important opera will fuel interest in more students to join the society. I have truly enjoyed being part of the CUOS during these three years and I hope more students will understand what an opportunity, for either music and non-music students, it is to be able to participate in the production of an opera and, like in my case have the cardinal role in the organisation of it. The society has already grown so much since last year, we have got a lot more male singer which we lacked last year, and I hope it continues to grow next year.
Do you think Carmen challenges the stigma of elitism that opera has been portrayed with over the years?
I mean, yes, definitely! Carmen is an opera about struggles, and more specifically about the people’s struggles in society, whether it is Carmen or any of the other characters – the opera is extremely relatable, and I believe it represents a lot more than a small slice of the society.
If you were to convince our readers to come and see Carmen what would you say to them?
It’s an amazing opportunity to appreciate the beautiful art of opera and you will get to see some of the best young singers in Cardiff perform. Also, Carmen is an extremely popular opera and I can guarantee most of the audience will recognise so many arias and chorus piece because they are so well known and beautiful!
The performances of Carmen by the Cardiff University Operatic Society will be on the 5th – 7th April 2019 7 pm at the YMCA.