The Phantom of the Opera - London

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Lara Martins on Her Record-Breaking Run as Carlotta in London's The Phantom of the Opera

Lara Martins on Her Record-Breaking Run as Carlotta in London's The Phantom of the Opera
Lara Martins & Paul Ettore Tabone in "The Phantom of the Opera"
(Photo: Johan Persson)

Lara Martins has quietly carved a slice of theatrical history by becoming the longest-running Carlotta in the storied history of The Phantom of the Opera, continuing on in its original West End production at Her Majesty’s Theatre. The Portuguese-born, London-educated performer joined the Andrew Lloyd Webber mainstay in 2012 and went on to play the role over 1680 times. As she approaches the end of her epoch-making run on September 1, the charming Martins took time to reflect on establishing a unique foothold in showbiz annals.

How does it feel to be the longest-running Carlotta in this fabled musical?
I don’t have the exact statistics, but I do know that I have been in the show since 2012 with a break of one year when I had my second child. It was a bit of a surprise that I kept staying on, but I just thought, “I’m happy here and am still giving something to the character and I feel good, so why not?” I just thought, “Well, as long as I’m still happy and as long as I am still giving something to the part, let’s do it.”

But you’ve decided to move on as of September 1 when the next cast comes in?
I thought six years was enough, and I do feel as if I have given everything I can to the character. It will be a good thing for the show to have a new Carlotta and for me to move on and do different things. All these years of eight shows a week with two small children is quite a taxing job. [Martins and her husband, an architect, have two daughters, age seven and two.]

When you left the show during your pregnancy with your youngest daughter, what spurred you on to return?
First of all, my loyalty to the company: they had been so kind and so supportive of my pregnancy that I felt it was my duty to go back, and the fact that they held my job open for me in this industry was pretty amazing in itself. When I went back, I started working with a new Piangi, Paul Ettore Tabone, and we began discovering so many new things, so I ended up staying two years more.

Did you know the show before you first took it on?
I came to London to study opera at Guildhall and didn’t really go to musicals at that time in my life, so had only ever seen [Phantom] once, when my parents had come from Portugal to visit. And when I did see it at that time, I never once thought that I would be in it given that I came from the opera world, not the musical theater one.

What were your initial thoughts as you approached the role?
When I got the part, I looked at other actresses who had played it but also wanted to bring my own take into the character. With any long-running show, there’s always a fine line between what has already been established about a character and wanting to bring something new, but I think I felt that Carlotta is much more layered and complex than just someone played for comical purposes. Being in the role all these years has given me time to explore that.

Complex in what way?
Those opera divas of a bygone century—Jenny Lind, say, or Adelina Patti—were the rock stars of today. Their concerts would fill up and they would have all these people around them. So, can you imagine what happens when a diva like Carlotta gets her status challenged by a ballet girl [i.e. Christine Daae, the show’s heroine]—who is a girl in the corps de ballet and not even a prima ballerina?

Is that Carlotta is being challenged on home turf, as it were?
Yes. She is probably middle-aged but starting to decline and then this girl comes in and all these weird things start going on in the Opera House, and so [Carlotta] is very vulnerable to all that, which has to show, as well. She’s not just this stroppy and feisty woman; there’s a vulnerability to her, and I think it’s important that the audience feel a bit sorry for her.

What about the vocal demands?
Carlotta is all those things I’ve been mentioning and she has the most difficult music to sing eight times a week. She’s got all these high D’s and E’s and must go from a chest voice to a belt to a high operatic register. Plus, she starts the show with this amazing cadenza, and if that’s not making a statement, I don’t know what is.

Are you keen to chip away at the perceived boundaries between opera and musical theater?
Absolutely! My career in opera was as a coloratura soprano, and I’ve since found new ways of using my voice doing this show: different styles and ranges. I can now belt and sing styles of music that had never crossed my mind before. One of my passions is to break this barrier between opera and musical theater. Sometimes, people tend to consider one art form better than the other, and I think that’s absolute rubbish. I think what Renée Fleming [a Tony nominee this year for Carousel] and others are doing is absolutely wonderful: why shouldn’t they be able to sing a musical theater role?

Is Fleming’s recent crossover between art forms inspiring to you?
Very much so, and I was in fact visiting New York when [Fleming] made her farewell from the Metropolitan Opera in Der Rosenkavalier. I made sure I got tickets for that performance, and the next day I was having a stroll in Central Park and she was there with her daughters. I couldn’t believe it: there she was in front of me! I mean, what are the odds of that?

How did you respond?
I was so overwhelmed that I was just able to say congratulations. I didn’t even tell her I was a singer. I didn’t want to take too much of her time.

Were you not tempted to name your second daughter Carlotta?
I think that might have been too much, don’t you? The thought crossed my mind, but I thought it would be wrong. I get called “Carlotta” enough times as it is at the stage door when my own name in fact comes from Doctor Zhivago: My parents named me after Lara in that.

What are your plans going forward?
Concerts! I have this project with my Piangi, Paul Ettore Tabone, where we are creating this cabaret called Both Ways, where we cross the musical theater and opera repertoire as well as genders, so sometimes I am singing the male repertoire and he is singing the female repertoire. We did a little preview of it last year at the Crazy Coqs [cabaret room] here in London and we’re now planning to tour the show, including to Australia next March and, we hope, to the US at some point after that.

Do you have other musical theater roles in mind?
I'd love to play Lily Garland [in On the Twentieth Century] and the Mother Abbess [from The Sound of Music], or even one of the nuns. Oh, and Madame Thenardier. I'm open to everything!

You’re leaving Phantom on September 1, but do you think you’ll someday return to the show an encore engagement?
Never say never! The company has been amazing and they even said to me, “You know, we were so happy with what you did for Carlotta that we would love to have you back if you wish after your break.” So, who knows? Never say never is all I’m saying!