On Friday, October 19, the Dallas Opera presented Goerges Bizet’s iconic, masterpiece Carmen starring Stéphanie d’Oustrac in her American debut at the Winspear. Conducted by music director Emmanuel Villaume audiences were thrilled by a colorful and captivating interpretation of the 19th century classic. The French mezzo’s artistic personality and warm supple voice, combined with an intense presence on stage left opera patrons wanting more. Stéphanie d’Oustrac dismantles the typical clichés associated with the femme fatale delivering one of the best portrayals of Carmen in history.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Brittany, in the western part of France near the sea. There wasn’t much of a music culture there in terms of exposure, but I was always singing from an early age, mostly in the bathroom! When I was younger, I was very asthmatic, and my mother encouraged me to join a choir when I was 11 years old to help me train my lungs and help my condition. Shortly after joining the choir, the choral master suggested that I should pursue some classes to become a soloist. So this was really the beginning for me, and when I fell in love with singing.
At a point in time, you wanted to become an actress, what inspired you to pursue a career in music instead?
When I discovered opera I was 15 years old and I was already in drama lessons. In France, when you are 19 years old you must choose which path you will commit to in school and at that time I had to choose between drama and singing. Since I didn’t grasp onto any particular technique in drama, I felt that I had much more to learn about music. Although, I chose to pursue singing, it was my training as an actress that helped me the most in my role as a singer. On stage I am more confident because of it, and it’s always such a pleasure of mine to act.
Carmen is an iconic character in opera, how do you feel you made it your own without slipping into traditional clichés?
On this staging this is the most classical Carmen I have done at the moment. I think I’ve avoided clichés by making it real. It is really about making the role authentic. It’s not the fan or the dress that is important in a way, those details only give an insight to the time period and century of acting. The most important component is the how the performers on stage relate to one another. This is also why the role of Carmen should be played by both an actress and a singer. A Carmen that looks a certain way or has a certain body time, this is what is truly what becomes cliché. It’s about the character and how we make it real and authentic!
Carmen is portrayed as being a powerful woman who is in control of her own destiny but she is as vulnerable as she is powerful. For you who is Carmen?
First and foremost she is just that….a woman. We as women are strong but we are also vulnerable. It’s important to show that. When we are in love, we are weak and onstage we have to interpret the vast dimensionality of a woman. Carmen is not just selfish for no reason, we have to learn why she is the way she is and this helps the audience to connect with her. She is authentic and raw. I have seen Carmen portrayed in many ways, sometimes violent and arrogant and for me I can not imagine any man finding that irresistible. Other times she is just portrayed as sexy but there has to be more substance there. It is the unexpected aspects that truly make Carmen an iconic character.
What is your most memorable moment onstage as Carmen?
I have so many memorable moments! It all seems to be going so quickly. Everyday it depends, but my pleasure is when I have a real connection with the other cast. My duet with Don José at the end is a favorite but also the love-making when there is no music at all. This is so special and so rare in opera when the singers can interact and take their time. So I really love this unique opportunity and take advantage of it.
How did performing at the Winspear feel?
The enthusiasm was incredible. I did this Carmen in England but in Dallas, I really feel the energy from the crowd more than ever before. We had a standing ovation the first night! So traveling this far was well worth it.
Dream role if you have not performed it and if you have, which one?
Carmen is always a pleasure! It’s never boring. I have performed so many wonderful roles. I sung Charlotte in Werther and this music is amazing to sing and to perform. For the first time I will perform Cassandra by the French composers Toussaint Bertin de la Doué and François Bouvard. I would love to sing Octavian in Le Chevalier à la Rose (better known as Der Rosenkavalier). That’s my goal because for ten years now I sang Baroque music and its amazing to see the progression, I’ve always played strong characters and I love that.
What are your plans after you leave Dallas?
I go to straight away to Paris for a concert recital at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. Right after that Cassandre at Les Troyens at Opera Bastille. So I will be in Paris for one month, which I am looking forward to.
Will you make any recordings in the near future?
I just did recently and it’s coming out in German and French repertoire in late February or early March 2019.
What do you feel your biggest challenge is as an artist?
I had surgeries on my vocal chords because I was taking medicine for asthma. I used to have to warm up for 2 to 3 hours before performing then after my performance I would not have a voice for an hour. So, I have had quite a big challenge so now, I think I deserve to just enjoy! No more challenges!
Is this your first time to Dallas?
Yes, it is and it’s also my American debut and I am so happy to do it with the Winspear. It’s a very special place and many famous singers have performed at the opera house as well.
| Photos courtesy of Karen Almond, Dallas Opera