Cristina Bakhoum Sanchez said that when she was a young girl, the first time she was given a $10 bill she purchased an album featuring The Three Tenors, consisting of Plácido Domingo, José Carreras, and Luciano Pavarotti. It was their record that began her love affair with opera. “I have appreciated the passion and the beauty of it ever since,” said the soprano, who is singing the role of Mimì in the Indianapolis Opera production of “La Bohème.” Making their Indianapolis Opera debuts, Puccini’s tragedy will be conducted by Craig Kier, with stage direction by Benjamin Smith. The Tarkington at The Center for the Performing Arts is the site of three performances on September 14, 15, 16, 2018. The production will be sung in Italian with projected English supertitles. Besides Bakhoum Sanchez as the leading soprano, the production stars world-renowned Metropolitan Opera tenor Gregory Turay in the leading role of Rodolfo, Daniel Narducci will sing the role of Marcello and Musetta will be sung by soprano Donata Cucinotta.
Set in the Latin Quarter of mid-nineteenth century Paris, “La Bohème” follows a group of young artists during the height of the Bohèmian movement. Focusing on the relationships and daily struggles of Rodolfo, the idealistic young poet, Mimì, the young seamstress, and their friends, Puccini’s opera displays the romantic idealism and the tragic circumstances that shaped their unconventional lifestyle.
Fascinated by her colorful background, I sat down with the charismatic 32-year-old Bakoum Sanchez at her hosts’ home on Indy’s far Northwest side on Monday. The daughter of an Egyptian father and a Mexican mother, the trilingual (she speaks English, Spanish and Arabic) she was born and raised in the U.S. She believes her multicultural lineage has given her an advantage. “I love it. I am appreciative of it. It has taught me a lot. It’s a mash up of cultures, religions (her dad is Coptic Orthodox and her mom is Catholic), customs and food.” Having studied French for 16 years, Bakhoum Sanchez says her comfort in speaking foreign languages gives her a leg up as an opera singer. “It is our job to tell stories. I have the huge advantage of being fluent in Spanish so when I sing in Italian or French, the rest of my colleagues are translating in English, then putting that into context for themselves. I skip that step. That is actually backwards and harder for me. So when I am singing in Italian, I literally understand what the words are because I am thinking in Spanish. It’s natural,” said Bakhoum Sanchez.
Bakhoum Sanchez made her role debut in 2017 as Dorabella in Mozart’s “Cosí fan tutte” with Mobile Opera. She’s excited to return to Mobile in October to make her role debut as Rosina in Rossini’s “Il Barbiere di Siviglia” and has performed with Central City Opera, Capitol City Opera, Shreveport Opera, Pine Mountain Music Festival, and New Orleans Opera.
A proud holder of three vocal performance degrees, Bakhoum Sanchez received her graduate diploma from the New England Conservatory of Music where she studied with the renowned Luretta Bybee. She holds a Master of Music from Florida State University and Bachelor of Music from Loyola University New Orleans. She says she started singing in choir in middle school and it was later during high school that she got serious about opera when a voice coach told her, “You have something special and you might consider singing as your profession.”
When asked where she thinks she is at this stage of her career, Bakhoum Sanchez said, “I am starting out at the beginning of it all. I am a planner in life, so I like to know what’s next. But in opera you can’t control these things. It’s a profession based off opinion. There are so many singers looking for opportunities. Singing the role of Mimì is a huge stepping stone in my career. As much as I studied and have the discipline and the desire, my voice took a while to settle. I sang as a mezzo for a long time before becoming a soprano. There were/are things out of my control, but it all makes sense now. The puzzle pieces are all fitting together. From here, I will be moving forward and I hope it will lead to me to more opportunities like here with Indianapolis Opera. Fingers crossed that “Aida is in my future. I would love to do ‘Tosca’ and, of course, ‘Carmen.’ She is just so fiery and sassy. I would also love to work in Spain, Mexico and Latin America.”
Another reason Bakhoum Sanchez says she wanted to become an opera singer was to travel, something she has done quite a bit, but not related to her current profession. Besides visiting Egypt and Mexico numerous times to visit family, she says after she finished her last degree, she had to take a “day job” to make ends meet. She worked as an HR project manager for a Cirque du Soleil tour which took her to all over Europe, Thailand, New Zealand, Australia, and Indonesia. “Because they are an entertainment company, they supported what I did and let me go off when I had bookings,” said Sanchez.
What does she hope audiences will experienced when they see “La Bohème?” “Whether you are a regular opera-goer or it’s your first impression, I want you, as an audience member, to forget where you are and be transported to Paris in 1830 and watch this story of love, tragedy, heartbreak and drama come to life. My dad doesn’t know opera, didn’t grow up with it and doesn’t go to it unless I am in it. I feel very accomplished as a performer, if at the end of the story, he either laughed or cried. If so, then I was successful as a performer. If I can move you or make you laugh or cry or walk away knowing that you forgot your worries of everyday life or if you become fond of opera and seek out more performances, I feel that I did my job well,” Bakhoum Sanchez said.
Single tickets for “La Bohème” can be purchased at The Center for the Performing Arts, online at indyopera.org, at by calling (317) 843-3800 and range from $35 to $86. Groups of 10 or more save 10% of single ticket prices, call 317-283-3531 ext. 1003.