Five questions for …. Carmen Giannattasio
In LA GIOCONDA Carmen Giannattasio takes the role of a woman struggling to make ends meet for herself and her sick mother
How strong do you have to be to sing the part of one of opera’s toughest women?
You’ve got to be an athlete. Singing Gioconda is tricky on a number of levels. For a start, it’s a three-hour opera, so it really takes it out of you. And then there’s the whole spectrum of human emotions, negative and positive, that the character goes through. Acting out all that is quite an ask.
How do you prepare for a marathon like that?
I have to train like an athlete, every day. Every day I add a little to what I’ve learnt of the part so far – and so on for a period of months. And before I get going with that there’s the studying to be done of the work as a whole, which is when I’m deciding on what my approach is going to be. Because we all have our own angle on Gioconda. I always say that we’re not so much singers as athletes and actresses who are just singing the words instead of speaking them.
Do you feel an affinity to Gioconda because, like you, she’s a singer by trade?
It’s not until the final act, when she’s faced with giving in to Barnaba’s coercion, that I get the sense that she’s a great actress and singer. She’s distracting him on purpose, letting him and the audience assume to the last second that she’s about to give herself to him. And then the big twist: she stabs herself to death. And that’s when Gioconda’s skill in lying and deceiving hits me, because making out to be something you’re not is exactly we do as artists.
What is it about Gioconda that marks her out as a strong woman, in your eyes?
She’s one of the toughest women I’ve come across in opera, precisely because she’s on the margins of society and forced to accept handouts. The coins she earns for singing on street corners are just enough for her and her blind mother to get by on. Plus, alongside her magnanimity, she is also independent and tempestuous of spirit. And there are contradictions, too, like when she’s set on killing Laura, her rival in love, and then her virtuous, empathetic side gains the upper hand and she ends up sacrificing herself to allow her rival to escape. That’s true strength.
A complex mix, then. How do you get to grips with these extremes of emotion?
I’m Italian, so intensity is something I’ve grown up with, to say nothing of all that duty to God, religion and crucifixes and stuff. This fear of God is made plain when Gioconda catches sight of the rosary in Laura’s hand and realises that it was Laura who saved her mother’s life, at which point she can’t bring herself to kill Laura, the very woman who’s standing between her and her loved one. We’ve all been there, right? Jealousy and rage sometimes take over and then suddenly it’s gone and you’re sorry you ever thought that way about the person.