By Gary Murphy
One of the world’s most acclaimed opera stars, soprano Ana María Martínez first graced the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion stage in 1997 singing Mimi in Puccini’s La Bohème, not long after she took a top prize in Plácido Domingo’s Operalia competition. Since then, she has sung five roles in six LA Opera productions—Violetta in La Traviata, Mimi (in two different seasons), Amelia in Simon Boccanegra, Nedda in Pagliacci, and Cio-Cio-San in Madama Butterfly. In September, she will mark her 20th anniversary in L.A. by making another LA Opera role debut as the fiery Carmen in Bizet’s eponymous opera.
Born and raised in Puerto Rico before moving with her family to New York, Ana María was educated at Juilliard and has performed at every great opera house in the world. Today she lives in Houston, which keeps her close to Houston Grand Opera, an institution with which she has had a long relationship.
As she was wrapping up her performances as Donna Anna in Don Giovanni at the San Francisco Opera, Ana María sat down with BRAVO for a chat.
BRAVO: Everyone who loves opera is always eager to introduce people to this wonderful, passionate art form and tries to break down barriers which prevent many from full enjoyment of it. When you come across people who say that opera is not for them, or they don’t get it, what can you do to change their perception?
Ana María Martínez: Opera is for everyone! The creation of opera began as the popular music of the day. The subject matter can include everyday experiences and relationships, or a mystical world, fantasy, magic….in summary, a limitless spectrum stemming from imagination. Remember that the singers are not amplified, and for that reason alone, it is absolutely worth the trip!
BRAVO: You were named one of the inaugural Community Ambassadors at the Lyric Opera of Chicago and are actively involved with Houston Grand Opera’s community programs. I understand that even when you are home in between performances, you often make yourself available to HGO’s community outreach programs. What drives that volunteerism in you?
AMM: I do my best to make time to volunteer within my community, whether that is at home or when I am working with another company outside of Houston, in order to champion the importance of the performing arts—and in particular, the value of opera, as it is the only art form that unites all of the other art forms. Attending live performances is an experience that nurtures empathy and inspires a connectedness within ourselves and within our community.
BRAVO: We all look to those who came before us and influenced our life choices, whether we knew them personally or not. I read that Leonard Bernstein had an impact on your life. As we celebrate his 100th birthday this year, can you tell us a bit about how his music influenced you?
AMM: I have loved the music of Leonard Bernstein ever since I can remember. I was four years old when I first heard the West Side Story soundtrack. I was never the same again. That began a love affair between his masterwork and me, and my imagination and deep immersion into theatrical music.
BRAVO: You were born in Puerto Rico and grew up in New York City where you went to Juilliard. I would imagine your community outreach work with the Latino community to be especially rewarding. Is it?
AMM: I love connecting with people and seeing their light bulbs at full force when they gain a new perspective. All communities and cultures are dear to me, and yes, I feel an extra joy when addressing members of the Latin community throughout the world!
BRAVO: We are excited about your Los Angeles debut in Carmen, your sixth role for us. Congratulations! Can you give us a hint at what we might expect from your take on opera’s beloved bad girl?
AMM: It's interesting to me that many regard Carmen as a "bad girl." I don't think of her that way. She is brutally honest with herself and everyone around her. She is raw, a creature of the earth and of the mystical world. She is passionate and courageous, and will challenge anyone or anything that threatens her freedom. She is fierce. We all, deep down inside, either want to be her or be consumed by her.... what's your pick?