Ana María Martínez is an artist that likes to draw outside of the lines. In her two decades as a professional singer, the repertoire she sings is an eclectic mix that ranges across multiple eras of opera. From roles like Carmen to Cio-Cio San in Madama Butterfly, Martínez’s breadth of work as a singer is enhanced by her superb acting skills.
For an artist that has sung at almost every major opera house in the world, Martínez herself is something of an “anti-diva.” When she arrived for her interview at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, she was almost unrecognizable in a hoodie, jeans and running shoes. After introducing herself, she’s sighed a breath of relief for making it on time.
“I was FaceTiming with my son back home,” she explained.
Martínez is no stranger to the LA Opera stage. Since her debut in 1997, she’s sung multiples times with the company, including last season’s opening production of Carmen. In the 2018/19 season, audiences have the privilege to see Martínez perform in two productions — first as Elisabetta de Valois in Verdi’s Don Carlo, currently on-stage until Oct. 14, and again as Solea in El Gato Montés: The Wildcat in spring 2019.
In over 20 years, the Puerto Rican-American soprano has accumulated a myriad of roles under her belt, though Elisabetta is fairly new to the list. She first sang the role at San Francisco Opera in 2016 — though she almost sang it much earlier, in the beginning of her career. In her twenties, she found the role too taxing at the time. However, Martínez now feels ready to tackle Verdi’s later operas.
“I find the later operas of Verdi to be more theatrical,” says Martínez. “They are more through-composed, and it’s really like witnessing a play take place with this extraordinary music. There’s just something about [Verdi’s] later works that really capture that drama, and I find that as an actor it is very enticing.”
She finds not only the story of Don Carlo to be particularly interesting, but also its historical context. And Martínez certainly did her homework. She provided to LA Opera an in-depth analysis of the Elisabeth de Valois and Felipe II of Spain. It turns out the couple was very happy in real life, a story-line that the opera contradicts.
“What I do know is that her history is different than what we see here in the opera, because in Don Carlo she’s unhappily married to King Philip II. And, of course, they were married so that the two countries could have peace. But they were very happy in real life and very deeply in love. And in this opera, they’re not. But it’s part of the drama of the story and to make the romantic coupling between Carlo and Elisabetta.”
Though very much in love with Carlo in the opera, Elisabetta is steadfast in her loyalty to King Philip, who happens to be Carlo’s father. She was forced to marry King Philip as the two countries established peace after war broke out. And as the new queen of Spain, Elisabetta vows to remain faithful, as much as it pains her to do so. She possesses both tremendous strength and vulnerability, something that Martínez feels makes the character relatable to audiences.
“There is a vast spectrum of emotions. So the challenge is to find the moments where you can showcase all of those emotions that she has, which I think that makes it very current,” Martínez explains. “I think that most people — not just to women, but also to men — when they’re in the role of the supporter, the one standing next to the one in charge, as Elisabetta is … she shows fair face and is always kind, but she has teeth too … she has all that.”
Now that Martínez has reached a new stage of her career, she often reflects on the choices she made in her formative years. Martínez used to be concerned if she had the right timbre, or color, to her voice that would be suited for the repertoire she wanted to sing. She often sang roles that were “lighter” for a long time, giving her the room to explore these characters in-depth before performing them live. Though she takes into consideration if she has all the notes required and it is appropriate in her voice, Martínez is a character-driven actress. It’s all about the strength of who she’s playing.
“Can I truly express it accurately? Now as I’ve gotten older, I feel as if I finally know my body. There is a stronger technically savvy and awareness. It’s a lifelong journey. I always say it’s better now and I’m more comfortable now, but I never say I’ve ‘mastered’ this, because you just can’t. Every day is going to be different. But you just have to be committed on a continuous basis.”
And committed she is. Critics have already hailed Martínez’s performance in Don Carlo as “commanding” (LA Times) and described as “a consummate actress who can sing both lyric and spinto roles in the Italian and French repertoires.” (Broadway World). Given her long-standing history with LA Opera and Maestro Plácido Domingo, she feels very much at home not only on the LA Opera stage, but also in the city itself.
“I really do feel like I’m coming home when I come to sing here. I appreciate the welcome that the entire company gives to all of us that come in all of the visiting artists,” Martínez says. “I love whenever I’m in a U.S. city and I see a large Latino population. I’m very happy to see that. It’s beautiful to see and to celebrate the ethnic diversity here. And I applaud the city for doing so.”
Don Carlo is on-stage at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion until Oct. 14. For more information or tickets, click here.LA Opera is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to the greater good.