Featured Artist: Carolyn Balkovetz (Mezzo Soprano)

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Carolyn joins us not only as Anna (Annius) in the Blue cast, but also as the writer/adapter of our production of Justice or Mercy (an immersive modern adaptation of Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito). We sat down with her chat about her vision for the character and the writing process.

POP: Where are you from? How did you first get interested in opera or musical theatre?
Carolyn: I’m an army brat, so I’ve been all over! As a kid, I’ve always loved straight theatre, but it wasn’t until middle school that I got into the music side of things. Then during High School, I sang opera arias for the talent portion in competitive beauty pageants, and I fell in love with classical singing!

POP: What are your dream roles?
Carolyn: Susanna from Le Nozze di Figaro and the titular character from Handel’s Theodora.

POP: What's a role you would never sing that you would like to sing?
Carolyn: Strauss’ Salome! I’d love to take on a role that dramatically challenging and macabre!

POP: How should we as interpretive artists deal with works that are highly politicized and potentially sexist?
Carolyn: All art is inherently “political”. The job of the artist is to look at what the writer/composer was trying to say and if it’s something truly offensive, you have a choice to make: Do you bite the bullet, do you walk out or do you change things? For “Justice and Mercy” we chose the third option. One of the concepts people throw around in this debate is “censorship” and the absurd idea that if we don’t constantly parade sexist and offensive material around we’ll all magically forget that these things exist. There is no way that I- a woman who goes out in public on a daily basis- will be able to forget sexism exists when I’m confronted with it constantly! The truth is, Mozart was incredibly misogynistic. When I worked on this script, especially with the changed genders of Sextus/Sarah and Annius/Anna, I wanted to do away with the Madonna vs. Whore dichotomy between Vitellia and Servilia and the portrayal of petty bickering women clawing their way to the top that permeates the work. So, I wrote a script where women are people with wants, needs and nuanced emotions, who’s intelligence and fierceness doesn’t relegate them to villain status. Why? Because it’s refreshing to sing beautiful Mozart arias and not be pummeled with the constant reminder that the composer would have viewed me as less than human. We aren’t erasing the original work or disrespecting it and there is a wide, bounty of information available to anyone who wants to view or research the work in its original form.   

POP: What do you think is the best way to make opera relevant to the next generation?
Carolyn: One of the trends I don’t care for is the urge to make opera “relevant”.  It often morphs into spoon-feeding the audience and talking down to them. This kind of blatant inauthenticity jumps out at an audience right away.

The secret is, opera has never lost relevancy. The plots and characters and music still speak to people as much as it did 50 or 200 years ago. However, the popularity and the lucrative nature of yesteryear’s opera industry bred complacency and artistic stagnation.

The key to opera’s survival is to take back our integrity as performers and artists and highlight this relevancy and convey it to our audiences. This can be in innovative and new ways, but it must be in a manner that is respectful to both the original works and our audiences.  

POP: Who is your character and how do you see them?
Carolyn: I’m playing Anna Liebermann/Annius: President Tito’s Press Secretary. She’s a generous, good-natured woman with an infectious and friendly personality. But instead of using that charm to grab the spotlight, she harnesses her abilities to become the ultimate cheerleader to everyone in her life. She sees herself in the role of sidekick and support in the majority of her professional and personal relationships, which gives her a slight martyr complex. This causes her at times to make unnecessary sacrifices that no one asked for in the first place! But ultimately, she’s a loyal friend, employee and girlfriend!

POP: What do you love about this interpretation of Tito? What’s challenging?
Carolyn: I love getting to play around with a familiar work in a new and modern setting! It’s provided some really neat opportunities for dramatic experimentation and getting to delve into parts of the characters that perhaps existed all along in the original but are highlighted in this different light, especially in the feminist, queer light of this production and seeing how the characters come to life and behave in that context!

On the other side of this fascinating coin lies the biggest challenge. In a world of endless possibilities for artistic expression, you have to be decisive and pick few strong choices to nurture and flesh out. 

POP: What’s your favorite moment in the opera?
Carolyn: Hands down, the love duet “Ah perdona” from Act I.

POP: What do you think will be special about doing this as a promenade adaptation?
Carolyn : I can’t wait to see what kind of natural and visceral qualities the promenade adaptation brings to the production. The key to theater is suspension of belief. Making yourself at home on a stage inside a theater is one layer of that suspension. I wonder if being in a more natural, realistic setting will take away a layer, facilitating that suspension further and making it even more authentic?

POP: Anything else you’d like to add?
Carolyn: If you do not come to this show, I feel genuine sadness for you because it will be AMAZING!

POP: Most importantly... which will you vote for: Justice or Mercy?
Carolyn: My heart says mercy, but my devious, drama-loving side says justice!