Fun in the desert
Venezuelan-born opera singer Nancy Fabiola Herrera is looking forward to singing under the stars as she performs the role of Carmen at Masada.
Venezuelan-born opera singer Photo: Beatriz Schiller
Carmen is, of course, one of the most popular operas around – and with good
reason. It ticks most of the entertainment genre boxes – action, romance and
comedy and, at the center of it all, there is an exotic, sensuous woman for whom
men tend to fall hook, line and sinker. Add to that one of the most stirring
locations in the world for staging Bizet’s work and you end up with what most
marketing executives would term “a sexy product.” Nancy Fabiola Herrera is
certainly looking forward to playing the central character in five performances
at Masada, starting on Thursday.
It is a role the Venezuelan-born opera
singer has performed many times before, although she says it makes quite a
difference singing under the stars rather than in the acoustically tighter
confines of an indoor auditorium.
“It is not the same to perform in
closed space [as opposed to] an open space. You have microphones and the whole
sound system has to be set up differently,” she notes.
Even so, that does
not directly impact on the style of delivery. “As professionals, opera singers
perform in different conditions and we don’t relate to the presence of the
microphones, we just get on with it. That is the most natural way to
Herrera arrived at Masada somewhat tired after a long journey but
says her spirits and energies were lifted when she got a look at the
“I feel a special bond with Masada and this area. To see the full
moon and the mountains and desert, that is really something special. The
place is really magical. It is like being on a film set.”
that Herrera’s career, to date, has taken her to many of the world’s most
glittering stages, including in New York, London, Berlin and Tokyo, that is
quite a compliment for our desert outcrop site. Mind you, that doesn’t mean that
absolutely everything in the garden is rosy.
“It was a bit dusty and
windy,” Herrera continues, “but I was really speechless when I saw everything at
Naturally, each production has its own challenges and
considerations, one of which is the language in which the opera is
That involves such cardinal logistics as the intrinsic
musicality of the language, as well as the singer’s own understanding of
The fact that Carmen has a French libretto, and Herrera’s mother
tongue is Spanish, comes into the performance equation.
“French is not an
easy language to sing in, because of the pronunciation. So, in such a case, the
singer has to prepare themselves very well beforehand,” she explains. “It
definitely helps to learn the language, and if you don’t know the language you
have to put a lot of hard work into learning the pronunciation.”
challenge is even greater when a non-native speaker performs a work in its
country of origin.
“The French are very particular about that sort of
thing,” adds Herrera. Still, if a singer has prior experience of a role
that can give him or her a head start.
“I have performed this role many
times before and, yes, that helps. But no matter how many times I have performed
Carmen I always take my time to review the pronunciation,” muses Herrera. “I
have to make the words sound as close as possible to the way a native speaker
would say them.”
Herrera has sung the role of Carmen on quite a few
occasions over the years and professes to having strong admiration for the
character. So what keeps drawing her back to the opera? “One of the things is
the music,” she says.
“It is such a beautiful score. Bizet wrote so
wonderfully for each character in the opera.” And then there is Herrera’s
“Carmen is a gypsy, and I know gypsy women and dancers. The gypsies
are a special community, and the women are very strong.”
epithet certainly applies to the opera’s central character.
represents a lot of things,” continues Herrera. “She defies lots of things in
society, lives the moment, enjoys life and, if she doesn’t enjoy something, she
stops it immediately. We can all learn a lot from that.”
Carmen is something of a femme fatale, with a very pragmatic ethos.
deals with things as they come. She can manipulate people, especially men, to
get what she wants but she is also very compassionate. She is very
strong-willed, but when she walks by people stare at her. She has
charisma, she knows it and she takes full advantage of it.”
the Venezuelan, is a highly potent combination.
“I have always been
bewitched by her. We all learn things from the characters we play, and I have
certainly learned something, about life and about myself, from this
Even with all those highly “marketable” assets, Carmen proved to
be ahead of its time.
It was first performed at the Opéra-Comique in
Paris, on 3 March 1875, and was initially something of flop. The portrayal of
proletarian life, immorality and lawlessness, and the tragic nature of the
storyline, proved to be too much for the opera-going public of the
The show’s first run extended to just 36 performances and, sadly,
Bizet died in the middle of the run and thus did not live to see the opera
eventually achieve success. It was revived in 1883 and has never looked
At the end of the day, Herrera says the opera is about having a
“Carmen is such a fun role to play,” she exclaims. “You have
to have fun and must not forget she is full of life, has a sense of humor, and
is so playful. I try to be playful.”
Carmen will be performed at Masada
on June 7, 9, 10, 11 and 12. The first performance will also be transmitted live
to three locations around the country, at Gan Hashlosha near Beit She’an,
Netanya and Beersheba, free of charge. For more information: www.operamasada.com