"It might be a signature role because I've done it a lot of times, but it's always new, always fresh," says baritone Norman Garret about the role of Escamillo in Bizet's Carmen. The character's a bit larger than life, a flamboyent bullfighter who catches the eye of the title character; Garrett has played the role several times, but always brings a little something different to his portrayal. And he definitely feels a kinship with Escamillo.
"He's flashy -- that's me. I mean, look -- I'm dressed all flashy," Garrett says (and he is indeed much more snazzily attired than the typical radio guest). "I like attention, I like to look nice, I like to command a room, so it's actually pretty typecast."
"And I've known Norman since college, so I can attest to that," agrees soprano Heather Phillips, who's performing Micaela in Carmen. She also feels a kinship with her character. "I think of my younger self," she says. "[Micaela is] very much looking for the kind of rulebook way of life, and that's how I was growing up. I'm from the Midwest. She comes from a smaller town, she ventures out into Seville... and has a lot of experiences that are kind of eye-opening for her. I've definitely experienced that in my own life."
Garrett and Phillips have both performed in Carmen before, but neither has been in a version quite like this one. Set in mid-1970s Spain, after the death of dictator Francisco Franco, this version is being billed as a "Boogie Nights Carmen."
"So it's a period in Spain which was a huge upheaval." says Phillips. "So there's a lot of this question of freedom and liberty, and that's what Carmen is about in general. It's a lot about personal relationships and passion and death all these big things that opera deals with, but I think the real theme of Carmen -- no matter where you set it -- is this idea of freedom."
Phillips and Garrett are both making their Austin Opera debut, and for Lubbock native Garrett that's particularly special. "The first opera I ever saw... was at Austin Lyrica Opera, when I was in college. I drove down here and saw Tosca and it just kind of blew me away. It was like, 'Oh, this is what opera is like!'."