Playing the feisty heroine at the centre of Bizet’s opera hundreds of times has given Nancy Fabiola Herrera a strong sense of just who “Carmen” is.
“Her sex appeal comes from her strength,” says Nancy Fabiola Herrera. “Her energy and her charisma are so strong that wherever she walks, all the guys have to stare at her. There is something about her …”
“Carmen is not necessarily beautiful, in the way we think about beauty” says Nancy Fabiola Herrera thoughtfully, reflecting on the role she is rehearsing for Opera Australia.
“She is sexy, but her sex appeal comes from her strength.
“Her energy and her charisma are so strong that wherever she walks, all the guys have to stare at her. There is something about her …”
Herrera has had plenty of time to form opinions about the feisty, tragic gypsy girl at the heart of Bizet’s popular opera – she shot to fame singing the role and has performed it hundreds of times in more than 16 opera houses around the globe.
“Carmen is this incredibly strong woman who is very comfortable in her own skin. In this world where everything is ruled by men, she is a free spirit,” Herrera says. “She doesn’t have a sense of duty with love, she will love for as long as her heart keeps palpitating. The moment that stops … it’s time to move on.”
For the popular singer, each new show offers an opportunity to get deeper under the skin of Carmen , she says, to capture the character as Bizet and his librettist wrote her, based on the gypsy girl of Mérimée’s novella.
“With each new production, you can work with the director to find different lines of movement and things like that, but I have a strong idea of who the character is,” Herrera explains.
“I like to play someone in a very sincere way. I don’t play Carmen sexy – I play her as a woman who knows who she is and knows how to use her body, her movements, her personality to get what she wants.”
The striking Canary Islands-born mezzo-soprano certainly looks the part of Bizet’s Spanish heroine, and her lilting Spanish-American spoken accent adds to the illusion. But it is her grasp of character that sets her apart from other performers, with critics lauding her ability to inhabit her roles.
It was actually the demand for acting and interpretation that first drew Herrera to the world of opera. “I’ve always loved acting, I was forever imitating my teachers at school and things like that. That was something that just came with me.”
Studying classical voice in Madrid as a young woman, Herrera began preparing some of Carmen’s arias at the request of her teacher. “In opera, you have the chance to interpret a character, you have to act as well as sing the beautiful music,” she explains. “I was familiar with choral music and classical songs but when I sang this I was shown the wealth of the world of opera. And I just fell in love with it.”
Since those early voice lessons singing Carmen, the opera has stayed with her – but Herrera says she can’t imagine getting bored of it. “The music is so beautiful that it is a thrill to sing every time I have the opportunity. For me it’s a masterpiece, a very complete opera: it has drama, humour, romance, dance, these melodies that stick in your head and this exotic story of the gypsy world.
“It’s a number one hit parade – even if you don’t know anything about opera, you know some of this music.”
Carmen is a bread-and-butter role for accomplished mezzo-sopranos, but Herrera has worked hard to maintain diversity in her repertoire, singing a range of Bel Canto roles as well as Zarzuela (Spanish operettas). “The voice evolves, and I want to keep singing roles that fit with the maturity of my voice.”
While Herrera’s CV is already impressive, there are still roles on her bucket list she would love to perform in years to come: Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier and Eboli in Don Carlo.
But this January she’ll cross an important milestone off her list of career goals: singing under the sails of the Sydney Opera House. “It’s one of the most famous buildings in the world, and for us who live in Europe or America, it feels so far away,” Herrera says. “I knew it as the home of Joan Sutherland and I’ve always felt very drawn to it.”
Five years ago, Herrera cut out a tiny picture of the Sydney Opera House to glue onto a map she was making of things she would like in her life.
“When I saw the theatre the other day, I said to my husband, ‘Pinch me, pinch me!” Herrera laughs. “I can’t believe I am here – I feel very happy.”
Nancy Fabiola Herrera will sing the role of Carmen in Sydney and in Melbourne this year.
For more information and tickets, click here.