BWW Interviews: Briana Hunter of LA TRAGEDIE DE CARMEN at Opera In The Heights
When doing an interview with an artist I am in awe of their love and dedication for their craft. This month I had the pleasure to meet American mezzo-soprano Briana Hunter and our conversation went from traditional interview to old friends talking about their love for the classics. Our mutual love for Bizet's masterpiece CARMEN and love for Audra McDonald made this interview go very quickly.
BWW: So tell our readers a little about yourself. Where are you from?
BH: I was born outside of Baltimore, Maryland and grew up largely in Pennsylvania right outside of Philadelphia. I then headed to Davidson, North Carolina where I attended Davidson College and then I went to New York and got my music degree from the Manhattan School of Music.
BWW: Tell us about the New York experience.
BH: I was pretty hesitant about pursuing a performance career. I wasn't ready to commit to a conservatory atmosphere. Music and theatre were always been a part of my life. It was around my last year at Davidson I realized this was what I wanted to do. A voice teacher there got me hooked on opera. I didn't grow up listening to opera. I saw my first opera when I was in high school and it didn't grab me right away.
BWW: Why conservatory vs. university?
BH: I was told to always go with the teacher. A good teacher matchup is number 1. Also, make sure that you get stage time because performing is the best experience. In being at MSM I was able to do a ton of networking as well.
BWW: In our preliminary research on you I saw you singing musical theatre rep, and doing plays. Would you like to have a dual career in opera and Theatre?
BH: My heart will always be with the theatre that is where I started. Music and theatre have always been a part of my life. Going back and forward can only help each art form. Now I am focusing on my opera career and I hope in the future there will be opportunities in the theatre for me.
BWW: Who are your musical influences?
BH: Diana Damrau a German soprano I saw her at the Met as Lucia in Lucia di Lamermoor, she was vocally wonderful and captivating and of course there is Audra McDonald and Joyce DiDonato. I admire the career of Marilyn Horne, Nina Simone and the vocal licks of Rachelle Ferrell.
BWW: What was the first opera role?
BH: Oh gosh my first opera was SUMMER AND SMOKE by Lee Hoiby and I played the role of Rosa Gonzalez. The strange thing about this is, I performed the play at Davidson and it was so interesting seeing the narrative translate into an opera. I think the music really enhances the story. This moment was very memorable for me because I met Lee Hoiby during production and later that year he passed away.
BWW: Who is your favorite Carmen?
BH: Oh my! This is a tough one. In my research I have watched a ton of different performances but I would have to say that Marilyn Horne's Carmen is wonderful. I think from the acting perspective Anna Caterina Antonacci she is riveting to watch super sexy and scary at the same time, vocally I am obsessed with Risë Stevens. I have a bunch of favorites.
BH: Once I began to dig into the role I saw so much of myself in her. I wanted so much to be like her. She lived life to the fullest while enjoying every ounce of it. I like to think I bring the element of fun, the type of girl everyone wants to hang with.
BWW: Musically how do you approach popular rep such as Seguidilla and Habanera?
BH: I spend a lot of time coaching the score with different ears. Everyone will have their opinion, I think you need to know how it's normally done and figure out your way. You have to know the score super intimately because everyone else does. As long as you know what is on the page you can campaign for your interpretation.
BWW: Tell the BWW readers about Peter Brook's adaption of Bizet's opera and the difference from the original.
BH: It's reduced down to the main characters: Carmen, Jose and Escamillo. You get to see Garcia who is in the Prosper Mérimée novella. All of the fun chorus numbers are gone. Her shade throwing sidekicks are gone. In a lot of ways it's like an Emo version of Carmen. It's really about the gritty emotions instead of the fun elements that are in the Bizet version. We get closer to the novella in this production. The orchestrations are reduced to 15 instruments and there is clearer characterization in the instrumentation. The Habanera is a bit more tribal and earthy.
BWW: What do you want the audience to leave the theatre feeling at curtain call?
BH: You know this is a difficult question. I want them to feel that they have gone on a journey. I don't want to force anything on them. Feel what you feel.
BWW: What tips do you have for young singers who want a career in classical singing?
BH: I want them to keep going. As you continue to work hard in your craft it's going to get harder. Know in your heart that you want to sing no matter what, even if no one wants to listen to you. Know that your voice is not all that you are.
BWW: Many say classical art such as opera and ballet are a dying art form, what is your take on that?
BH: I mean they aren't dead yet. People are still buying tickets. There are people who hear live music and their lives are influenced by it. There will always be something amazing about the classically trained voice. There is something special about the live voice that can fill up a 1500 seat auditorium without a microphone. There's truth in the live performance.
BWW: What's next for Briana Hunter?
BH: I am flexing my arts administration muscle. I am the Marketing Director for BARE Opera. Our inaugural production will be L'ENFANT ET LES SORTILÈGES double billed with L'ENFANT PRODIGUE at the Robert Miller Gallery. We are playing with intermedia arts Alexanda Posen who co-founded the Zac Posen line will do motion graphics and costumes. I'll also be performing la chatte/l'écureuil in the L'Enfant and this summer I will be an Apprentice Artist at Santa Fe Opera.
Go see Opera in the Heights production of LA TRAGÉDIE DE CARMEN this weekend. For ticket information please visit: operaintheheights.org. To learn more about Briana Hunter please visit: www.brianaelysehunter.com and www.bareopera.org