In any language, Stefanna Kybalova conveys – convincingly – the emotion of her character

Soprano Stefanna Kybalova has already played Mimi in Puccini’s La Bohème.

But more importantly, the native of Bulgaria once lived the life of a lonely, freezing artist – missing her beloved and with only a cat to warm her. Mercifully, that was for a brief time while she was in Finland performing the role of Mimi. But the experience lends a palpable authenticity to her portrayal of Puccini’s doomed heroine.

Kybalova makes her first trip to the U.S. – from her home in Italy – to portray a character close to her heart. Don’t miss her in Opera Carolina’s production of La Bohème. Here’s part 1 of our two-part Q&A with the delightful diva.

You’ve performed Mimi before. Where? What do you love most about her?

Yes, I’ve already sung Mimi several times. The first time was in Seoul, South Korea in a very big production during Christmastime. It was magic. I was at the side of my husband who [played] Rodolfo, and we were really very emotionally involved. We have sung many times together, and every time he says I am the only Mimi who always makes him cry at the end.

I remember another beautiful production in Helsinki, at the Finnish National Opera. It was a very long production, and I was alone for two months. Only my cat was with me, and I remember the cold and the dark of the night at just 2 p.m. When I finished rehearsals, I ran home. I felt my face and my finger so frozen, and when I was in my apartment, I crouched next to my cat who warmed me. I really felt like the character of Mimi. I dreamed about the sun and [of] returning to the arms of my love.

I love the intensity with which Mimi loves her man and her life, but I admire the simplicity with which she manages to express this intensity. She’s a simple woman but capable of great impulses. That makes her a real woman – one for whom we feel great empathy so we mourn her death when her illness crushes her.

Will this be your first time on the Opera Carolina stage? What are your impressions of Opera Carolina and Charlotte?

It will be the first time ever in the USA! I am… very proud to be able to realize a dream. I want to get to know a new audience and have a new experience of great music, because I have already worked with Maestro James Meena, and I appreciate his musicality and empathy.

I did some research about Charlotte, but I’m leaving room for surprises, too. I will face everything, as always, with great joy and curiosity.

What are you doing to prepare for your role?

Every time I face a role, even if I have already [performed it,] I ask myself new questions about the character, about the composer’s music. I want to discover new interpretative secrets and give my characters more and more intensity and authenticity.

Especially in Puccini, who I think really knew how to transcribe every nuance of emotion a human being can experience, the language is music. I am not satisfied with knowing the notes and making beautiful sounds when I sing. I want the audience to feel in my melodies the intensity and truth of that character’s feelings.

This means knowing how to also read the score and understand what atmosphere the composer wanted to create.

But perhaps the most satisfying phase is when we are at the first rehearsals with the orchestra. This is the moment in which a great empathy is experienced. The singers and the orchestra begin to speak together and create the magic of this great universal language which is the music.

This is why I always consider it very important to work with conductors who have great charisma, capable of leading us toward this great magic that must be created between singers and orchestra.

See Stefanna Kybalova in Opera Carolina’s production of La Bohème Jan. 18, 19, 23 or 25. For tickets, call 704.372.1000 or visit