Chávez uses opera to explore her roots

FMU’s South Carolina Chamber Music Festival (SCCMF) presented world-renowned mezzo-soprano opera singer Kirstin Chávez and pianist Paolo André Gualdi in a live performance of their album “Pasión” at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 27 at the FMU Performing Arts Center.

Chávez, an Albuquerque, New Mexico, native who spent most of her formative years in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, has captured attention and earned praise for her role as Carmen in nearly 40 different productions across the U.S. and around the world. She has performed in several major opera houses, including the Sydney Opera House in Australia.

“My roots are Spanish,” Chávez said. “I love the rhythms of Spanish music. I love the Spanish language. The whole idea of the ‘Latin passion,’ for me that is so fun.”

The performance opened with four sets of Latin songs that each focused on expressing passion in some aspect.

This included three sets that were performed by Chávez and accompanied by Gualdi, and one was a piano solo performed by Gualdi. After the first four sets, there was a short intermission during which Chávez changed her outfit.

“It’s a special thrill since I’m not doing an opera and can change costumes,” Chávez said. “We try to give a little bit of eye candy as much as possible.”

Following the intermission, the duo performed three more sets. One of the sets was a collection of six songs by Xavier Montsalvatge. This was followed by Gualdi performing a piano solo of “Asturias” by Isaac Albeniz. The last set of the night was comprised of four popular Spanish songs by Álvaro Carillo and Agustin Lara.

Chávez’s performance was unlike a typical opera performance. She was lively, animated and often broke the fourth wall to talk to the audience.

“I’m just going to be me,” Chávez said. “It takes more energy to try and be stiff and proper. I’m just up there having fun.”

Chávez said she originally did not enjoy opera, and actually thought it was boring. It wasn’t until she was in high school that she realized she had a love for classical music.

“I realized that the classical style of singing was the highest level to achieve,” Chávez said. “So I thought, ‘Well, while I’m deciding what to do, I’ll study the classical style,’ and it turns out, I fell in love with it.”

The SCCMF is funded through the REAL grant, Artist and Lecture series and the Department of Fine Arts.