IF the world of opera could select an ambassador to open up the art form to the masses, there wouldn’t be many better choices than rising American star Chrystal E Williams.

Chrystal is working with Opera North for the first time and will be heading to The Lowry next week in the title role of Bizet’s Carmen, her first full production since the Covid-enforced break which affected the whole of the arts world.

“This is such a great way to come back,” she said. “I did a production in February with the Pittsburgh Opera but we still wore masks and we couldn’t play to full capacity theatres, so it’s been so really wonderful to come back full throttle with this dream role.”

For this new production the traditional Spanish/Cuban setting has been replaced by what Chrystal describes as “a burlesque club in a non descript America from the Sixties or Seventies”. The sets are lavish and the costumes stunning.

COMPLEX: Chrystal E Williams in her ‘Diana’ wig as Carmen (Picture: Tristram Kenton)

COMPLEX: Chrystal E Williams in her ‘Diana’ wig as Carmen (Picture: Tristram Kenton)

“Many people have this fixed idea of Carmen as some sort of sexy femme fatale,” said Chrystal, “but there is so much more to her than that. You have to peel back the layers to unearth the beauty of the character. She is so deep. Let’s face it, people are simple yet complex and that’s so true of Carmen and I’m so happy that I can delve into the different sides of her and who she is.”

The essence of the plot sees Carmen seducing a soldier who becomes infatuated with her even though she is in love with someone else which ultimately leads to tragic consequences.

“At the end of the day, everyone is doing best they can to survive and making best decisions they can,” said Chrystal. “We’ve seen that with Covid - we’ve done the best we can to take care of and look after our family and loved ones That is what Carmen does.”

By changing the setting and staging, Chrystal believes that the production will really connect to an audience.

“As artists we are licensed to be storytellers,” she said. “The director may have a vision for the characters and it is our job to bring those characters to life; to present a complete story to the audience and it is so thrilling to do that especially after so long of not being able to do it.

“I’ve always thought when I’m performing that I feel blessed to essentially be paid to do what I love. That is a gift.”

Chrystal has worked with some of the world’s leading opera companies and has developed a real love of working on productions in this country. As well as Opera North she has performed with the Birmingham Opera and English National Opera.

“They are all such supportive teams,” she said. “With Opera North, even though it is my first time with them it really reels like a family.

“In the States you come in and you present the piece and immediately go into rehearsals. In the UK there just seems to be a little more time to get to know people a little bit more.

“We always call starting a new production ‘the first day of school’ because you probably won’t know anyone and expectations are always high, particularly those expectations I put on myself. So to be able to have time to bond with everyone is a great experience.”

Chrystal is committed to bringing opera to a wider audience and break down the misconceptions which label it as elitist.

DIVA: Chrystal E Williams in Opera North’s Carmen (Picture: Tristram Kenton)

DIVA: Chrystal E Williams in Opera North’s Carmen (Picture: Tristram Kenton)

“I’ve been fighting this since I started out.” she said. “Every year back home in Virginia I give a free recital. Sometimes when I ask people to come they say they don’t like classical music but then admit they’ve never actually been to a classical concert so I make them come and they love it.”

Carmen, Chrystal believes is an ideal production for an opera novice.

“For a start the music is fantastic,” she said. “Some of it might be familiar either through cartoons or commercials. This production is very theatrical, a fantastic piece of theatre. I get to come in on a swing at one point, there is a huge party, it’s just so lively.

“Yes there are surtitles as we sing in French but don’t be put off by that. It just works as a piece of theatre. And the costumes - I just love them. I particularly love my wig Diana - named after Diana Ross - it’s big and it’s fabulous and just fantastic.

“To anyone who might be feeling hesitant or think it’s not for them, I’d say ‘just go’ and experience the full production. Honestly you won’t regret it.”

Opera North’s Carmen, The Lowry, Salford Quays. Wednesday, November 10 and Friday, November 12. Details from www.thelowry.com