Nashville Opera's Carmen: "She dies because she told a man, 'no'." From top left: Noah Stewart, Ginger Costa-Jackson, Costa-Jackson rehearsing Carmen at Nashville Opera. Photo: Jonathan Pfahl.

Nashville Opera's Carmen: "She dies because she told a man, 'no'."

Jenna Simeonov

After making a splash with their brand new triple-bill in January, Nashville Opera presents the well-loved - and equally sultry - Carmen. Mezzo-soprano Ginger Costa-Jackson stars in the title role, meeting her match opposite Noah Stewart as Don José.

Carmen plays April 6-8 at Nashville’s Andrew Jackson Hall. We spoke with Costa-Jackson and Stewart about playing infamous roles, feminists ahead of their time, and scenes that leave you on the edge of your seat.

What do you find inspiring and challenging about singing famous roles like Carmen and Don José?

Ginger Costa-Jackson: Carmen is any actor/singer’s dream role to play. She is the fiery gypsy seductress who lives defiant to a culture that shuns her as an outcast, and yet celebrates each day with such joie de vivre that it is infectious and irresistible to all around her. It’s one of the most done and beloved operas. As a result, many wonderful divas like Maria Callas, Fiorenza Cossotto, and Maria Ewing have given us their rendition of this iconic piece. I feel inspired by the bulk of work I am privileged to listen to and watch; the challenge is to bring something new to the character, that is distinctly my own interpretation, unfettered by the many greats that have already put their stamp on Carmen.

Noah Stewart: The most challenging part of singing these roles, is making them yours and bringing a freshness to the story, after years of performances by hundreds of wonderful artists. Carmen is theatre at its best and the acting requires just as much octane and attention as singing in French with ease as well as scaling vocal heights throughout the evening!

How much do Carmen and Don José share the roles of hero and villain in this opera? Where do you think your characters lands on the villain/hero spectrum?

Noah: I think that neither Carmen nor José are hero nor villain, but people who make bad choices. I think that’s why Carmen is perhaps the most performed opera of all time, partly because of its tragic love story. The stories of crimes and passion have documented throughout human history. We know these people and can identify with how they might feel or felt, based up personal experiences or from stories we have heard or read about.

Ginger: Carmen is an anti-hero. She is harder to like because of her moral flaws and selfish motivations; however, she has a set of ethics she lives by that are good, her eternal truths, and freedom is at the pinnacle. Ultimately, she dies because she told a man, “no.” She was a feminist, an advocate for equal rights before her time. Don José is our villain. He kills her, a woman he is obsessed with, because she refuses to take him back, and that drives him into desperation, but ultimately rage. In the story of Carmen the true unadulterated hero is Micaëla. She is the selfless ‘good girl’ Don José should have married, who risks her life to try to save him from his poor life decisions.

Do you have any favourite moments in the opera?

Ginger: I have two favorite moments in Carmen. The fight in Act II, when Don José hears the trumpets summoning him to role call, and I throw a lover’s tantrum, because I was mid-dance and he dares to leave! I also adore the minutes right before the grand finale. It was my first time working with Nashville Opera’s director John Hoomes, and I am enthralled with this rendition of the end. It is a murder not to be missed.

Noah: Yes, the final scene is perhaps the greatest written in all of opera. Passion to the max with great music. It’s like the final five minutes of a game. Everyone is always on the edge of their seats!

On top of hearing an operatic classic, what do you hope Nashville audiences will take away from your performances in Carmen?

Noah; I think that audiences will take away that Nashville is fortunate to have many genres of great music all around the city. Something to really be proud of and to continue to support for generations to come.

Ginger: The goal is for the audience to have been moved to a new place, to make new realizations, to experience a night of powerful illuminating theater. If this is the case, then the production is a success. Every time I perform this opera I learn something new about my character, something she has to teach me in terms of musicality and liberty. I’m excited to learn what Nashville and Carmen will teach me about life and freedom.

Nashville Opera’s Carmen runs April 6-8. For details and ticket information, click here.

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