Israeli-born mezzo-soprano Rinat Shaham has received accolades for her operatic and concert performances throughout the world, not least for her portrayal of the title role in Bizet’s Carmen, an interpretation filmed last summer on Sydney Harbour and beamed across the globe. Our review praised her performance as “vocally very alluring and full of seduction”. She has also recently taken part in her first spoken theatre role, in Carmen Disruption, in Hamburg. As part of our Opera Month investigation into the opera in HD experience, we asked Rinat about the role cinema can play in bringing a new audience to the art form and about acting for the cameras.

Rinat Shaham © Fadil Berisha
Rinat Shaham
© Fadil Berisha

Have you noticed a difference in the way productions are directed when HD cameras are in the House?

I actually haven’t noticed any directorial differences so far, since the production is usually directed mainly as a series of live performances in the house and the filming itself takes only a night or two out of the entire run, therefore most of the hard work goes to the HD director as they are the ones who end up having to find  the best and most natural angles, whereas the director has to think about the entire run. From a singer’s point of view, I know that I’d try, for the filming nights, to reduce my acting in order to achieve maximum nuance (as much as I can), and still be inclusive of my live audience in-house.

What do you think are the advantages of HD relays to a singer?

No doubt that if your voice records well and if you are a decent actor, an HD filming could be a great tool. Facial and vocal expression that don’t necessarily read well in a large house, could transmit easily through the camera. The quality of nuance is something which film has always managed to bring off very well.

Rinat Shaham (Carmen) and Dmytro Popov (Don José) © James Morgan
Rinat Shaham (Carmen) and Dmytro Popov (Don José)
© James Morgan

Is the popularity of HD broadcasts having an effect on the style of productions staged?

Maybe, I am not sure. But I assume that directors these days take into account that their production might need to be aesthetically interesting as they have to compete with other, more modern genres and styles.

Rinat Shaham (Carmen on Sydney Harbour) © James Morgan
Rinat Shaham (Carmen on Sydney Harbour)
© James Morgan

What hazards have you come across when performing for the big screen?

Technical issues can occur and on both evenings when they filmed our “Carmen on Sydney Harbour”, it was raining. Luckily the second show was a bit drier so they could combine the two and somehow get a complete “dry” show. But on  the first evening of the filming, the rope which was supposed to tight me during the Seguidilla, got loose right at the beginning, so I had to hold it in my hand (what kind of kills the illusion…) so  I now had only one take I could have for the Seguidilla, whether it was going to be good or not. Luckily the rope stayed on for that other night, and that part of the evening wasn’t rainy.

People go along to their local cinema to watch you in HD. What would you say to them to convince them to take the next step and come into the opera house itself?

I don’t think you can beat the excitement and quality that you can get at a live performance, no matter how great the sound system is or how clearly you can see some close ups. Real voices in real time in a real opera house is a unique kind of experience which is simply not comparable to anything else.