Erica Iris: singing a "radically revisionist" Carmen

Erica Iris: singing a "radically revisionist" Carmen

Jenna Simeonov

At 8pm on November 22 at Toronto’s Club 120 Loose TEA Music Theatre presents a workshop fundraiser of Bizet’s Carmen, starring mezzo-soprano Erica Iris in the title role.

Loose TEA Artistic Director Alaina Viau has written a new English libretto for Bizet’s music, and it’s a “radically revisionist” take on one of opera’s most notorious heroines.

“It is from the viewpoint of a woman negotiating her lot within the terrain of a gendered, violent, and class society, whose positions of power are largely occupied – and abused – by men. Is Carmen really the exotic temptress who toys with Don José’s heart? Is she not simply a working woman, forced by her social position, to interact with the soldiers of the Spanish military elite, eventually leading to her undoing?”

This single performance of Carmen, paired with a pre-show silent auction beginning at 7pm, is part of an ongoing fundraising campaign to further develop Loose TEA’s adaptation, and along with Iris, the production stars Ryan Harper as John Anderson (Don José), Beth Hagerman as Micaëla, and Andrey Andreychik as Ricardo (Escamillo).

Erica Iris chats about singing infamous characters, their misconceptions, and the fun of small-venue opera.

What kind of woman is Carmen? What about her do you think is commonly misunderstood?

Carmen is a passionate woman who lives to fulfill her own desires without compromise. She is strong-minded and determined and doesn’t take “no” for an answer. In my opinion, one major misconception about Carmen is that if she’s able to get out of any sticky situation, and win things in her favour, then she must have everything under control. She doesn’t.

Another is that she must be uncaring as she is dismissive of others; she doesn’t seem to care about anything but herself. I actually think she cares a great deal about how she is perceived, but is quick to respond negatively when someone wrongs her. In truth, she just doesn’t know how to handle it any other way; her strength is actually her weakness and she fails to compromise.

What kind of story does the new libretto by Alaina Viau tell? Are there any notable differences from the original French text?

Alaina Viau took the Carmen libretto, originally written by men, Ludovic Halévy and Henri Meilhac, and completely shifted the focus to a female’s perspective. Viau hasn’t significantly changed the original context of the text, but there is a definitely a political standpoint to how Carmen is viewed and ought to be treated.

What has been changed is the directorial approach to the material, making bold choices to shift the story to the empowerment of women.

What do you enjoy most about performing in intimate spaces, with the audience up close?

There is nothing more rewarding than having an audience “feed” you whilst you are performing. This give-and-take relationship of live theatre certainly becomes more immediate in smaller venues and that can directly impact the performance in a positive way. I thrive off of the unexpected – good or bad – so it’s a real treat for me to perform in a space like Club 120 for an audience I can practically reach out and touch.

For more details and to purchase tickets for Loose TEA Music Theatre’s Carmen, November 22, 8pm (silent auction at 7pm), click here.

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