Caro Meets Musicals & Opera Interview

Kirstin Chávez: Carmen – Fire And Fate

By | Published on Thursday 8 June 2017

I was really interested to hear about renowned opera singer Kirstin Chávez’ take on Bizet’s ‘Carmen’, which has a short run at The Cervantes Theatre this month.
It’s definitely a different beast from the original opera, being a one woman show featuring flamenco dancing, but will no doubt reflect the performer’s experience and understanding of the famous role.
I arranged to have a quick chat, to find out more about Carmen, this adaptation, and Kristin herself.

CM: For anyone not familiar with it, can you tell us a bit about Carmen’s story?
KC: Carmen is a free-spirited gypsy who meets a young soldier Don Jose when she is arrested for fighting outside the cigarette factory where she works. He is immediately attracted to her and helps her to escape, which leads to his own imprisonment. When he is released, after two months, he discovers that Carmen has waited for him; she dances for him and reveals that she has fallen in love with him. She is involved with a band of smugglers and when the army raid the bar where they are carrying out their trade, there is a brawl and Jose fights against his fellow soldiers and so has to run off with Carmen and the smugglers.

After some time trying to live the gypsy life, Jose feels guilty and lost and clings fiercely to Carmen, jealous of her closeness to anyone else, and her love wanes as he tries to possess her and steal her freedom. Jose has to go back to his village to see his dying mother and when he returns Carmen has moved on, retaken her freedom and become Escamillo’s lover. Jose pleads with her to return to him but she refuses, saying she must be free and that she would rather die than be with him. Enraged and crazed, Jose sees no way through but to kill her, since she will not relent and return to him.

CM: Tell us about your take on it. For those who have seen the original opera, how different an experience can they expect from your show?
KC: In this show, everything is seen from Carmen’s perspective and how she feels emotionally. I will sing Carmen’s original arias and music (in French) but I will also use monologue to explain how Carmen reacts to the other characters, while their music is played underneath by James Longford, my pianist. With everything else stripped away I hope the audience will be able to catch what I believe to be the true essence of the character of Carmen.

CM: What made you want to create this version of her story? What was your inspiration?
KC: I have sung Carmen in nearly forty different productions around the world and I feel that she is now a part of me. I so admire her way of living and of being and I wanted to try to illuminate the robust fullness of her personality and to demonstrate the very real and human depth of her convictions, her emotions, and her passion for life.

CM: You’ve played the role in a number of different productions, and received much acclaim. How does performing this and performing in the original opera compare? Is there more emotional investment for you, do you think?
KC: I love singing the original opera and it is from this that ‘Carmen – Fire and Fate’ has developed. I invest a great deal, emotionally and physically, whenever I play Carmen, it is only that I have more opportunity to reveal what I believe to be Carmen’s true inner experience here, in my own show. Both versions end up being very demanding for me, mostly because I feel an enormous responsibility and commitment to present her as fully and honestly as I can.

CM: You devised this in collaboration with Artistic Director Johnathon Pape. What was the process? How did you work together on it?
KC: Because Johnathon and I have worked together before, I knew that he was the perfect person to help me to develop this show. As soon as I approached him with the idea, he immediately starting formulating the shape of the show in his mind, and within a very short time, he had created a first draft of the text we are using. Together, he and I talked on the phone (we were never in the same city together until the end of April!), discussing the nuances of the text and the staging techniques we could use to fully portray the story we wanted to tell. Finally, when we were able to come together for a few short days, we fine tuned all the details and made all the decisions that would support the integrity and the continuity of the show.

CM: The show has been choreographed by the Buenos Aires born flamenco dancer Sol Koeraus. How did this come about? How important is the dance element in the show?
KC: Sol was introduced to me by a friend of mine who dances with the Metropolitan Opera in New York, and I will forever be grateful for that introduction! I have long dreamed of doing a ‘Carmen’ in which I could take on the challenge of dancing in the true flamenco style, and, at last, that dream is coming to fruition. Sol and I worked long and hard together in NY to get me ready to perform the dances that she created, and she was a master at creating pieces that utilise all the beauty that flamenco has to offer, while making sure that the dance would not prevent me from singing and acting to the best of my ability, as well. Most opera singers are not asked to dance flamenco while singing, and most flamenco dancers are not asked to sing opera while dancing! Doing those two things at the same time can be immensely challenging, and Sol did such an amazing job at choreographing me for success in both!

CM: Can we go back a bit, now? How did your singing career begin? Were you drawn to opera from a young age?
KC: My father was a wonderful singer and when I was quite young, he taught me to sing some of the Spanish American folk music in which he specialised. By the time I was nine years old, I knew I wanted to be a singer for life, though I really thought I would aim for Broadway! I didn’t see my first opera until I was 19 and well into my bachelor of music degree, but I was immediately smitten, and very drawn by the enormous challenge of singing and acting at the same time at such a high level.

CM: What would you say have been the highlights of your career?
KC: Having the chance to explore Carmen in so many productions has been one of my greatest pleasures. I also feel blessed that I have been able to get inside the roles of Octavian (Der Rosenkavalier), Rosina (The Barber of Seville), Amneris (Aida) and Orfeo (Orfeo ed Eurydice). I have also had the chance to sing in a number of contemporary operas which are very different and quite challenging, but are also extremely rewarding.

CM: What ambitions do you have for the future?
KC: Well, I definitely want to be able to continue presenting ‘Carmen – Fire and Fate’ (I actually have a performance of it with full orchestra in the autumn in the US)! I also hope to do many more productions of the full opera ‘Carmen’. And now I am diving into the Verdi mezzo repertoire, and hope to become known for interpretations of Amneris (Aida), Eboli (Don Carlos), and Preziosilla (La Forza del Destiny), among others.

CM: What’s happening next for you? Will you be returning to London any time soon?
KC: Immediately after this tour I will be going on holiday to Corsica – a much needed break as I have been working non-stop since the beginning of the year – and in August, I will return to my students at the University of Utah, where I am Artist in Residence. In September I will be in a new opera called ‘We Shall Not Be Moved’ with Opera Philadelphia which, I am delighted to say, will also be coming to Hackney Empire in London from 13 to 21 October.


‘Carmen – Fire And Fate’ is on at The Cervantes Theatre from 12-17 Jun. See this page here for more.