The Israeli mezzo-soprano speaks to Limelight about her upcoming stint as Carmen.

Carmen is a crowning role for a mezzo, but there are a lot of great performances out there already. What do you try to bring to this character?

Carmen is a role that everybody knows so well – the music, the character. It comes with a lot of expectations. I think part of the beauty is that everybody sees something of their own in it. I’m Israeli originally, so I am trying to bring something Mediterranean – a bit of hot weather into the role, something a little naughty.

What do you think of Carmen as a character? Does she have a heart?

Well, obviously I love her. Not only do I love her, but I learn from her. She can be bitchy, sexy, but on the other hand I also see her as young, funny, charming – she is full of charisma. Otherwise, I don’t think men would fall for her. If she was only pretty, only sexy or only a bitch, I don’t think that would make everybody adore her so much.

Have you sung in Australia before?

No I haven’t. But I have been longing for this because I am actually married to an Australian [violist Peter Bucknell]. I know Australia and I love it, and I am really happy to be performing there.

Is it hard turning up at a theatre where you’ve never sung before?

It’s like a kid going to a new school: for me it’s like going to a new school every month. You have to get to know the new kids and the new teachers and wear the new uniform. It’s always a little awkward, but after a few days I’m used to it.

Do you have a routine you follow?

I try to find a gym wherever I can, so I can keep fit. And of course I have to vocalise everyday to keep my voice in shape, because it is like any other muscle in the body. And a big part of my routine is my computer. It keeps my home with me always, and my friends. My social network is in my laptop.

Are there any roles that you haven’t sung yet, that you have your eye on?

At the moment I have my eye on Donna Elvira from Don Giovanni, a role that is usually sung by a soprano, but also by mezzos that have a high extension. That is a very interesting role for me to do. I adore Don Giovanni, and I have sung Zerlina many times, but I am thinking of upgrading to Donna Elvira very soon.

Now, about that high extension… Are you sure you’re a mezzo?

I never actually knew if I was a mezzo or a soprano, and I still don’t want to put myself in a box. Like Carmen, I like to have many faces [laughs].

So, apart from Carmen, what else are you looking forward to in Australia?

Well, my husband is planning a lot of stuff for us to do, and I have to tell him I am working – it’s not a vacation! I know Melbourne pretty well, but not Sydney so much, and it is such an honour to be singing in the Opera House. I am also looking forward to experiencing summer when it is winter in the rest of the world.


Rinat Shaham sings Carmen at the Sydney Opera House from January 15-February 19.