As Victoria Livengood enters the fourth decade of her operatic career, the Thomasville native can look back with pride on her many years as leading mezzo-soprano in productions across four continents. She performed her signature role, Bizet’s “Carmen,” more than 250 times, including at the Metropolitan Opera with Placido Domingo, and was a noted Delilah in Saint-Saens’ opera about the biblical seducer. Livengood brought both roles to Raleigh for Opera Company of N.C. (now N.C. Opera) in the early 2000s.
On Jan. 24, Livengood returns to Raleigh for N.C. Opera’s concert presentation of Tchaikovsky’s lushly romantic “Eugene Onegin.” This time, however, it’s for a character role – the kindly nurse Filippyevna, who tries to discourage young Tatiana from sending an obsessive love letter to the handsome but disdainful Onegin. Livengood has made a successful transition to such character parts, providing a flourishing career extension.
The gregarious, fun-loving mezzo, affectionately known as the “Dixie Diva,” joins colleagues Joyce El-Khoury (Tatiana) and Joo Won Kang (Onegin), along with Timothy Myers conducting the on-stage orchestra and chorus, for one of opera’s most dramatic love stories.
In a call from her home outside Charlotte, Livengood spoke about preparing for this role, her career’s new direction, and how she handled the change. Here are edited excepts of that conversion:
Q: What do you like about the role of Filippyevna?
A: She’s such a warm, nurturing character. I love that I can compare her to my grandmother and the relationship I had with her. It’s very easy for me to feel that kind of love and adoration towards Tatiana. That makes the role honest instead of me just pretending to be someone.
Q: How difficult was it to learn Russian for the role?
A: I learned it phonetically using a version from the Met. I find that Russian suits the color of my voice and I also think my Southern accent helps. There are vowel sounds really far back in the throat that come more easily to me than to my Yankee friends!
Q: How did you decide to make the change to character roles?
A: When I did my last Carmen, I knew inside that I could still sing it, but it started to get too hard to jump up on tables and dance around. So it was more my body than my voice telling me it was time.
Q: When did you start the transition?
A: About eight years ago, my agents decided to re-invent me. They said they wanted to make me the Rolls Royce of character mezzos. What would set me apart from many who play these roles was that I could not only act them but also still sing them well.
Q: Did you have any qualms about moving away from leading roles?
A: At first, I thought my ego might suffer, but I’m having a ball. I’ve embraced these new roles, especially the comic ones. I love to laugh and am known for being completely crazy. I use that for the comic roles, which are often over the top – one thing I’ve never had trouble being!
Q: Will teaching be part of your career now?
A: I have started teaching and absolutely adore mentoring young singers. I’m particularly interested in helping North Carolina singers because I’ve found there is an abundance of talent here, but they don’t know how to move up in the profession. I can help them do that because I started on the farm but got all the way to the Met.
If you go
What: “Eugene Onegin” in concert, presented by N.C. Opera
Where: Meymandi Concert Hall, Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 East South Street, Raleigh
When: 3 p.m. Jan. 24
Info: 919-792-3853 or ncopera.org