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Carmen Chameleon

Cityscape talked to Georgian opera bombshell and leading mezzo-soprano Nino Surguladze ahead of her turn as the lead in New Zealand Opera’s upcoming production of Bizet’s classic, Carmen.

You’ve played the lead in Carmen before; how have you prepared for New Zealand Opera’s version? This is my first time in New Zealand, and I am very excited as I always dreamed of coming here. Carmen is a role I have played for many years, and is one of my favourites. Now the next important step to prepare for the production is to work with the rest of the cast and the creative team in the rehearsal room to bring Carmen to life. I’m really enjoying working with our director Lindy Hume – we have a similar vision of Carmen as a strong woman with her own beliefs about her place in the world. I love playing Carmen this way.

How would you describe your character? I think of Carmen as someone who is pure and sincere, because she acts on her true feelings and beliefs. She has great strength of character and she’s someone who is ahead of her time – she’s not afraid to go against the status quo. She challenges the place of women in society. I see her as a kind of female Don Giovanni. I am so in love with this character that I sometimes forget she never existed.

Surguladze Nino 1

Tell us about the relationship between Carmen and Don Jose. They are a couple with a very complicated relationship that gets progressively less healthy through the story. The same thing that draws Don Jose to Carmen is what he eventually tries to destroy in her. Carmen doesn’t fulfil his idea of what a woman should be – but she’s not willing to be controlled by the expectations he has of her. The price for her freedom is very high – it is her life. But this is a price she is willing to pay.

The opera is 142 years old. Why do you think it’s still so well loved? Carmen has some of the most famous arias in all of opera, and a storyline that is still very relatable. It’s all about identity, it’s very dramatic – and there’s a love triangle!

This is a hugely anticipated production – what can we expect? There’s a lot of action on stage – there are fight scenes, music you’ll instantly recognise, love, betrayal, tragedy and even moments of humour. Audiences are going to go away thinking about what they’ve seen on stage and how the themes are still relevant today.

What’s the hardest part of your performance? Carmen is a role that demands great vocal stamina and this is a very physically demanding production, so I have to make sure my voice and body are fit.

NZ Opera: Carmen
13 – 22 July, Isaac Theatre Royal, nzopera.com

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