A Look Back at MOT’s Carmens
Where are they now? Carmen returns this season for the seventh time at Michigan Opera Theatre! But before Ginger Costa-Jackson and Sandra Piques Eddy take the stage with their vibrant interpretations, join us in looking back at past artists who’ve taken on the role in Detroit.
1977 – Brenda Boozer
Our first Carmen at Michigan Opera Theatre was Brenda Boozer in October 1977. A beloved American mezzo-soprano with one of the longest and most illustrious careers in the business, she first appeared with MOT in a 1975 production of The Barber of Seville, alternating in the role of Rosina with a young Kathleen Battle. Also a gifted dancer, she studied dance with Martha Graham, and made her Broadway debut in Coco with Katherine Hepburn. You may recognize her from The Tonight Show with David Letterman, and can find a clip from a broadcast here.
1977 – Victoria Vergara
Chilean mezzo-soprano Victoria Vergara alternated with Ms. Boozer in the 1977 performances. She was recognized around the world for her performances of Carmen, and she may be the only performer to have both sung the role opposite of Plácido Domingo and later be conducted by him. Ms. Vergara’s crystalline voice and charm are still appreciated by audiences in her DVD recordings of Rigoletto with Luciano Pavarotti, and Carmen with Domingo. She returned to MOT to sing Carmen again in 1981.
1981 – Cynthia Munzer
Also performing in 1981 was Cynthia Munzer. In addition to making a name in some of the most favorite mezzo roles from Amneris to Azucena, Ms. Munzer has been a dynamic interpreter of twentieth-century opera, including roles in the Metropolitan Opera premiere of Lulu. Nowadays, she is a beloved member of the vocal arts faculty at the University of Southern California. And beyond inspiring young students, Ms. Munzer’s 2013 lung cancer diagnosis and subsequent path to recovery has led to her public advocacy with the American Lung Association, lending the strength of an opera singer’s voice to raise awareness of respiratory health.
1989 – Cleopatra Ciurca
Cleopatra Ciurca and Isola Jones both took the stage as Carmen in the 1989 at the Masonic Temple, a production whose size and grandeur proved the need for MOT to have a larger theatre. Ciurca came to light in 1978 when she sang both of the major roles in Bellini’s opera Norma at Covent Garden, London—for half of the run she sang the younger priestess Adalgisa opposite Montserrat Caballé, but stepped into the title role on a moment’s notice. She went on to be a favorite Maddelena (Rigoletto) and Olga (Eugene Onegin) at the Metropolitan Opera throughout that 1980s.
1989 – Isola Jones
Isola Jones, a jewel among American singers, is a mezzo-soprano of American Indian and African American descent. She lit up the world of opera when she made her professional debut in 1975 as the soloist in Verdi’s Requiem with the Chicago Symphony—again as a last-minute replacement—sharing the stage with Sir Georg Solti and Leontyne Price. She has had a brilliant career, from making her Met debut opposite Nicolai Gedda in Eugene Onegin to singing more than 500 performances on that stage. She is a dedicated pedagogue, now living and teaching in Arizona, and recently completed her doctorate in musical arts and education.
1996 & 2001 – Irina Mishura
Russian-born mezzo-soprano Irina Mishura took MOT’s stage in the 1996 and 2001 productions of Carmen. After performing in the gala opening of the new Detroit Opera House, the Detroit News singled out Ms. Mishura’s “gripping ‘O don fatale’ from Verdi’s Don Carlo” as “the performance that likely will endure as the most memorable of the night.” And her later interpretation of Carmen received more impressive reviews still! She made an auspicious debut at the Metropolitan Opera in 2000 when she appeared as Dalila in Samson et Dalila opposite Plácido Domingo, a role she has also performed at MOT along with Amneris in Verdi’s Aida. Lately, she has made quite a stir with her performances of Herodias, the cunning mother of Salome in Richard Strauss’ seductive masterpiece, from San Francisco to Madrid and beyond.
1996 – Sharon Graham
Native Michigander Sharon Graham made her house debut as Carmen in 1996. Ms. Graham was one of the most esteemed singing-actresses of the 80s and 90s, and is fondly remembered at for her performances of the impassioned Composer in Ariadne auf Naxos and tender Suzuki in Madama Butterfly. Her experience studying with Maria Callas were immortalized in Terence McNally’s play Master Class, and her real-life experiences with the great diva were first interpreted in the play by none other than Audra McDonald.
2001 & 2009 – Kate Aldrich
Another Carmen in the firmament of MOT history is the dazzling Kate Aldrich, who shared the stage with Ms. Mishura in 2001 at just twenty-eight years old, and returned again in 2009. Ms. Aldrich rose to international fame when she stared in the film version of Franco Zeffirelli’s grand production of Aida, and she has an impressive discography where you can enjoy her continued ascent. Just months after her MOT debut, she received top prizes at the Operalia Competition, and also received the Alfréd Radok Award, the Czech Republic’s equivalent of a Drama Desk Award, for her performance of Sesto in Prague—the only American to have received this honor. Her 2016–17 seasons includes major performances of Carmen in Paris, Dresden, Naples, and more!
2009 – Kendall Gladen
St. Louis native Kendall Gladen also took the stage in our most recent production of Carmen in 2009. She studied as an Adler Fellow at the San Francisco Opera, and shortly before her debut in Michigan, she gave a highly praised performance in Beethoven’s 9th Symphony with the San Francisco Symphony under Michael Tilson Thomas. She premiered the role of Elizabeth Keckly in Philip Glass’s Appomattox, and is one of a few African-American singer to take on the roles of Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier or the Composer in Ariadne auf Naxos, roles that still carry a lot of racial and historical “baggage.”
The next generation of Carmen(s) at MOT has as much promise (and passion) as those in our past! Sicilian-American Ginger Costa-Jackson’s performance in San Francisco’s provocative new production garnered her rave reviews, the LA Times saying that she “brought a dangerous, animalistic vibrancy to the title role.” She recently made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera as Rosina in The Barber of Seville, and after Detroit, she’s headed to Paris to take on the savvy role of Despina in Così fan tutte at the famous Palais Garnier (the opera house where the Phantom of the Opera is set). One thing’s for sure: Ginger Costa-Jackson is going to break a lot of hearts here at Michigan Opera Theatre when she takes the stage in October! Don’t miss it!
Timeline of Carmen at Michigan Opera Theatre by Austin Stewart, with help on the details from Dr. Tim Lentz, and archive/media sleuthing by Colin Knapp.