On Being Carmen: A Conversation with Viktoria Vizin

Internationally-renowned mezzo-soprano Viktoria Vizin has played Carmen 100 times in 17 productions, from London’s Royal Opera House to the New York Met. Between international flights and rehearsal calls, she took a few minutes to share how inhabiting Bizet’s iconic heroine on stage isn’t just a job—it’s a lifestyle.

Almeida Theatre: How long have you been performing? How did you get into opera?

Viktoria Vizin: Since 1996. My debut was in Romania in Rossini’s Barber of Seville. I sang Rosina, the sassy young girl.

My parents took me to my hometown’s theatre for all the musical plays and operetta. My school took us to the Budapest State Opera to see performances. I was a member of 13 choirs in total from third grade, and I was also a child actor in musical plays. There was no doubt that I’d end up on stage. But when I was 14 my first voice teacher told my parents that I might have a voice for opera. The final decision was at age 20 when my theatre speech teacher told me that I’d better not throw a God-given voice away and I should think about becoming an actress on the opera stage.

AT: When did you first play Carmen? What was it like?

VV: In Essen, Germany in 2000. I was full of excitement. I felt like a freshly-crowned queen.


AT: How would you describe the role of Carmen to someone who

had never seen the opera?

VV: Carmen is the essential woman with her complex inner beauty, her strength, her emotions, her reactions and interactions to society. She’s sassy, charming, powerful, vivacious. She’s one-of-a-kind. Very sensitive and has hardly any true friends. A survivor. Until Don José arrives on scene...

AT: What is a normal week like for you?

VV: Playing an opera affects one’s lifestyle. You need to rehearse at least four to six weeks in different countries (one at a time). You need to keep an approximate healthy routine so you don’t lose your condition and/or voice. Exercise, yoga, constant studying, voice training with coaches, six hours of rehearsals six days a week. People think l see the world with this type of life, but I only

see my theatres, the roads surrounding me, my rental place and a lot of airports. I try to relax as much as possible when I’m in a production.

It’s not easy to maintain a busy career and have a family across the ocean. But it’s working, because I have a wonderful husband who supports my ideas. During the summer, he and my parents take care of the children. I have two kids. Modern technology helps us stay connected. And we hug forever when I’m back.

AT: How does the role affect you as a person, or how you see the world?

VV: This role is dangerously close to me. Not in literal ways—I’m not a gypsy girl, I’m not out of control in sexuality, etc.—but the role gives me the opportunity to find myself in past experiences.

And when I play those moments—heartbreaking moments—it hurts. I cry.

And playing too many Carmen shows has certainly made me feel that I have become typecast, that people see me as Carmen and not as myself. There’s a fine line between me and the role. But I can’t describe where that line is. That is absolutely similar to the story in Carmen Disruption. Where is Carmen and where am I?

AT: How is performing in this production similar or different to what you normally do on stage?

VV: It’s totally new to me. The rehearsals are serving not just to create the action, but to connect to one another for real, not just as one character to another. It’s so natural. I wish all opera singers could experience this!

Carmen Disruption plays at the Almeida from 10 April – 23 May 2015. For more information or to book tickets, click here.