Knoxville Opera’s ‘Carmen’ This Weekend: Bass Ryan Kuster and his Escamillo

Ryan Kuster and Audrey Babcock in Knoxville Opera's 'Carmen'

Ryan Kuster and Audrey Babcock in Knoxville Opera’s ‘Carmen’

Do toreadors and opera singers have anything in common? Perhaps. Both require training to expand on one’s natural gift; both must perform, often at risk, before a demanding audience; and both thrive on the adulation of the crowds and develop a confident swagger that grows out of successful performances. Given that description, bass Ryan Kuster has found a definite role in Escamillo, Bizet’s confident bullfighter in this weekend’s Knoxville Opera production of Carmen.

With previous appearances as Escamillo with Opera Grand Rapids, Opera Colorado, and Virginia Opera, Kuster exudes an apparent natural confidence that makes one wonder where the singer ends and the character itself begins. But perhaps, that is where operatic magic happens.

“I think the reason I initially got into opera,” Kuster explains, “was because it is all about my ego, because it was all about me, I loved the attention. But the reason I fell in love with opera is because it is all about putting aside my ego and creating something bigger than myself.”

That something bigger in the case of Carmen is the theatricality of the Act II introduction of Escamillo in one of opera’s most familiar chorus introductions (“Vivat, vivat le Toréro”) and arias, full of confidence, swagger, and bluster, “Votre toast, je peux vous le rendre” (“The Toreador Song”). Unfortunately, Carmen seems unimpressed.

“Escamillo and Carmen are well matched for each other,” Kuster believes. “For them, it is very much moment to moment, a day at a time, she doesn’t want to promise anything more than that. The reason he goes after Carmen is because she says ‘no.’ And that intrigues him.”

“I sometimes feel that Escamillo, whenever I play him, has a life of his own. Sometimes, it’s a little more cocky, sometimes it’s not. It’s just a little different and I can’t explain why the role is a little different each time. That’s what is fun about it—I just go along with that flow and I say ‘Great! Let’s see where this goes.’”

Bizet’s Carmen
Knoxville Opera

Tennessee Theatre
Friday, February 13, 8:00 p.m. and Sunday, February 15, 2:30 p.m.
Tickets: or telephone 865-524-0795