J'Nai Bridges
Text: Laura Roling | Photo: Dario Acosta

‘Freedom means everything to Carmen’

21 March 2022

J’Nai Bridges discusses Carmen – her dream role.

Mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges had always dreamt of singing Carmen; now the femme fatale has become one of her signature starring roles. Although... femme fatale? Bridges elaborates: “Carmen is a complex character, but she makes no pretences about who she is. She’s very clear about what she wants. The problem lies with Don José: he chooses not to listen to her.”

Carmen is the ultimate enchantress: utterly irresistible – not just to the other characters in the opera and the audience, but also to mezzo-sopranos. “Every mezzo-soprano wants to sing this role. The music is a treat: intoxicating, sensual and full of life. And then there’s the character. Mezzo-sopranos are generally not given a whole lot of opportunity to be sexy or sensual on stage. Carmen gives us a chance to go all out.”

Bridges has sung the role several times – but each time she returns to it, she gains fresh insights. “I honestly uncover something new each time I sing the part. One thing that strikes me in particular is how effortlessly Carmen wraps people around her finger. Her confidence is unshakeable, which is very enticing. You don’t need to pull any vocal stunts when singing Carmen. Just adding a little colour with your chest voice can be enough to reveal her seductive powers. Sometimes less is more.”

‘Carmen gives mezzos a chance to go all out’

Fatal attraction

Carmen eventually pays for her love of freedom with her life – she is stabbed to death by her former lover Don José. This ending has recently espoused some controversy. Some believe Carmen, a feminist icon, deserves better. J’Nai Bridges disagrees. “Altering the ending would mean obliterating one of the major themes of this opera: fatal attraction. Don José’s rage escalates to the point that he commits an act of extreme violence – an issue that is still very relevant today. Domestic violence is extremely common worldwide. The opera Carmen forces us to face these facts. That’s not something we should try and sweep under the rug.”

J’Nai believes Bizet’s opera is very clearcut. “Carmen and Don José’s relationship is not as complex as people might think. Carmen is very upfront from the outset: she’s not interested in having a long-term relationship. But her words fall on deaf ears. Don José makes Carmen the centre of his universe. And the more possessive he becomes, the more he drives her away. In truth, Carmen has probably already had more than her fair share of Don José’s: men who tried to mould her into something she was not and refused to take ‘no’ for an answer. And it is clearly starting to wear on her.”

The American mezzo-soprano draws inspiration from Carmen’s self-assurance. “I think everyone wants to be a little bit more like Carmen. She knows what she wants and refuses to get sidetracked. I too try to channel a bit of Carmen into my daily life.”

J'Nai Bridges

The ‘Beyonce of Opera’, according to American broadcaster BET. Mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges is a fast-rising star in the world of opera. She has won the Marian Anderson Award and has performed with opera companies such as The Metropolitan Opera, Washington National Opera, and San Francisco Opera.

From 3 to 22 September 2022, Carmen can be seen in Dutch National Opera & Ballet. Look here for more information: Carmen.