Lithuanian operatic mezzo-soprano and the 2015 International Opera Awards Young Singer of the Year, Justina Gringyte returned to the London Coliseum earlier this year to reprise the titular role in the English National Opera’s production of Georges Bizet’s CARMEN. The exotic and wilful Spanish gypsy girl is Justina’s signature role and considered one of the summits for a mezzo.
After initial studies at the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre, she continued her learning at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Italy’s Accademia Musicale Chigiana and at the National Opera Studio in London. Between 2011-2013, Justina was a member of the prestigious Jette Parker Young Artists Programme at the Royal Opera House. During the 2014/15 Opera season she played Maddalena in RIGOLETTO at the Royal Opera House and the Bolshoi Theatre and Hansel in HANSEL UND GRETEL for the Vilnius City Opera, but it was the role of Carmen that dominated that and the following season. She performed it for the ENO, staged at the London Coliseum, the Scottish Opera, the Lithuanian National Opera and the Novosibirsk Opera and Ballet Theatre known as the ‘Siberian Coliseum.’ She also appeared in semi-staged performances in Moscow and St Petersburg.
The London and Scottish productions were radically different. The ENO’s was very contemporary, set in the 1970’s near the end of Franco’s regime, using the English translation with some edgy character breakdowns… and a few cars. The Scottish production was performed in its original French, set in 1825…. with a few tables. The one similarity: no big flamenco dancing scenes. Richard Bartley in his Spectator review described Justina’s “smokey voiced” Carmen as “terrific.” She also returned to the role for the Lithuanian National Opera from October 2017- May 2018 and again the following year.
Justina signed my sketch at the Coliseum during the final week, which completed its limited run on 27 February, before the coronavirus pandemic closed the West End.
Russian mezzo-soprano Anna Goryachova made her Royal Opera debut earlier this year in the title role of Barrie Kosky’s ‘daringly dark’ new production of CARMEN. She shared the role with fellow debutant Gaelle Arquez. The 34 year-old native of St Petersburg began her opera career in her hometown’s Chamber Opera and has been a popular performer throughout Europe and Scandinavia since.
She had previously performed the role of CARMEN at Belgium’s Opera Vlaanderen and Teato Real in Madrid. In London the production broke with convention, resembling more the dazzle-dazzle of Vaudeville. Anna signed my drawing, which I left for her at the Royal Opera House stage door, with a vivid red crayon and returned it to me along with a very nice thank you note.
One of the world’s rising young opera stars, French mezzo-soprano Gaelle Arquez made her Convent Garden debut earlier this year, performing the title role in the Royal Opera’s production of Bizet’s CARMEN. It’s a role she knows well however, having played the famous gypsy previously this year in Frankfurt and Madrid. After graduating from the Conservatoire National Superieur de Musique de Paris, Gaelle debuted as Zerlina in DON GIOVANNI for the Opera de Paris and has since played all the major opera houses around the world. Gaelle signed my drawing at the Royal Opera House after a performance of CARMEN last month.
“It’s every opera singers dream of singing at Covent Garden,” said the hotly-tipped Australian Nicole Car when she arrived in London and made her Royal Opera House debut late last year in two high-profile roles, playing Micaela in Bizet’s Spanish tragedy CARMEN and the lead, Tatyana in EUGENE ONEGIN.
Her response to performing on to the iconic stage for the first time? “Kind of cool.” An understatement that belied the rave reviews. Nicole never reads reviews during the run, but she could tell by the sustained applause on opening night that she was more than cool. George Hall in his Guardian review of her portrayal of ‘opera’s good girl’ Micaela wrote, “Australian debutant Nicole Car was the evening’s most complete performance… her luminous soprano proves ideal for Bizet’s soaring lines and she acts with intelligence and immediacy.”
The Sydney Morning Herald headlined aa article about Nicole with, ‘The Opera Diva you’ve never heard of, but soon will,” and she signed her name on this drawing I did of her as Micaela.