Mezzo-soprano Celeste Haworth is singing in the chorus in Opera Australia’s Carmen on Cockatoo Island. We chat to her about this very modern interpretation of Bizet’s opera and performing in the elements against the stunning Sydney Harbour backdrop on Cockatoo Island.
Bonjour Celeste, we spoke earlier in the year when you were in the role of Flora Bervois in La Traviata. This time, you’re part of the chorus of Opera Australia’s production of Carmen on Cockatoo Island. Tell us a little about this opera and your role in the chorus.
It has been a busy year! I am excited to be singing in this production of Carmen, because it is a very special and unique one thanks to the creative team, and the usage of the elements of Cockatoo Island to our advantage. I think it will be spectacular.
The chorus is on stage for a very large portion of this opera – in every act, actually.
The production is a very modern interpretation of Carmen. What makes this production different to others of Carmen?
This production will be so distinct and almost radical – and on many levels. It is an outdoor event on an island, using the unique industrial heritage space. It quite Australian in that regard, with a little Mad Max and punk rock thrown in.
Audiences will have never seen the like – there are motorbikes, fireworks, dancers and of course an incredible cast of opera singers. However, one of the things I am most intrigued for audiences to see is the director Liesel Badorrek’s take on the opera.
What is director Liesel Badorrek’s vision for Carmen? How is her methodology different to that of other directors you’ve worked with?
Liesel is a wonderful director – experienced and clear in her methodology, communication and vision. Liesel’s interpretation of the opera is very different, with a much more modern and exciting perspective – without giving too much away, even seasoned opera goers will have some many, many surprises in store!
This production of Carmen is being performed outdoors on Cockatoo Island in Sydney. You have already performed outdoors in the opera La Traviata in 2021. What are the challenges in singing outdoors? Are they different again being on an island this time?
Singing in the open air is an experience I hope every working opera singer can have the opportunity to do at least once. It is so elemental – you can feel the air on your skin, hear birds or the sounds of the night around you. Singing opera always makes me feel so alive, harnessing the air and energy to create sound, but adding this the outdoors is a wonderful feeling. It also adds an extra level of being on your toes because live theatre outdoors- anything can happen!
Cockatoo Island is such a special space to stage an opera- I think the audience will feel transported in every sense to another world, and after all, isn’t that when you have a really great night at the theatre?
What audience(s) is this production of Carmen for?
I can’t wait for people who have never seen an opera before to experience this all-encompassing, vivid production, but I am truly most excited to share this Carmen with people who have seen this opera before, because this production will be just so different, so unexpected, and on a big scale.
Do you think that being a modern interpretation and being performed outdoors will bring a younger audience to this opera?
I certainly hope people of all ages will come and experience, not just see, this show – because it will undoubtedly be an experience like no other. The talented dancers are moving in the most modern, street style ways, the singers are on top of their game with truly thrilling sounds, and where else would one see real motorbikes revving through real industrial spaces that the opera is taking full advantage of?
How many of you are there singing in the chorus?
I believe about 40 – it’s a big spectacle, and Bizet’s stunning music will be on full display with the talented artists on stage.
You’ve also sung in several roles as mezzo-soprano for Opera Australia, notably La Traviata which we spoke about earlier in the year. Is it difficult to not stand out and sing over the others when you go from solo parts to chorus roles?
The wonderful thing about my colleagues in the chorus is that are that they are all talented artists in their own right, some with decades of experience in every opera imaginable, creating their own characters within each story and being extremely adaptable to anything. I consider myself very fortunate to share the stage with them, and it makes the joy of singing roles doubled, because I have such a supportive group of artists there alongside me. It was like this in La Traviata singing Flora, and I am certain it will be again when I sing the role of First Norn and cover the role of Erda in The Ring Cycle next year.
Do you have a pre-performance ritual?
Aside from the usual vocal warm ups, and checking my makeup is in place, I always have a cup of tea in my dressing room, so I imagine it will be a thermos of tea in the dressing rooms on Cockatoo Island!
Why should people come to see Carmen on Cockataoo Island?
It will be unlike any other Carmen out there, and unlike any Carmen before. The interpretation is distinct, atypical from what people are accustomed to seeing – in direction, in set design, in harnessing the heritage of the Cockatoo Island site, and playing with those island elements.
It is one of the most modern interpretations of the opera Carmen that I have witnessed, and I am beyond thrilled to have the audience be surprised and swept up in this new experience.
We thank Celeste Haworth for this interview.
You can also read our interview with Tomas Dalton also part of the chorus in Opera Australia’s Carmen on Cockatoo Island
If you’d like to hear more from Celeste, read our interview with her about her role in La Traviata earlier in the year.
KEY INFO FOR CARMEN ON COCKATOO ISLAND
WHAT: Bizet’s French opera Carmen
WHERE: Cockatoo Island, Sydney
WHEN: 7:30pm from 25 November to 18 December (except Mondays)
HOW: Purchase your tickets via the Opera Australia website
Adults from $79 for B Reserve to $149 for Premium Reserve (+ $9.80 booking fee)
Ferry tickets to and from Cockatoo Island can be booked separately when you purchase performance tickets
Have you seen a performance of Carmen before? Or an outdoors performance of opera?