Isola Jones, a young mezzo from the Met who will sing "Carmen" here tonight at the Warner Theatre, sits over coffee and muffins in an airy hotel lobby and declares her ambitions with clarity:
"I want to be rich and famous. I should be."
There is a spirited spiciness in the way she says these things. It seems to spill over from some of the characters she has sung here on the Metropolitan Opera tours -- Preziosilla, the gypsy camp follower in "La Forza del Destino," and the faithless Venetian courtesan Giulietta in "Tales of Hoffmann." And, of course, the wicked Amneris, the devious Delilah, the fickle Carmen. Jones also wants to sing the equally fickle Bess (now she's the Strawberry Woman in the Met's new "Porgy and Bess"). Or the flirt Maddalena in "Rigoletto," which she has sung with the Washington Opera and on "Live From the Met."
Not that Jones plays only disreputable women. But she has a sort of flair in that direction. "I'm a kind of type," she says. Anyway, composers tend to write such roles for singers in Jones' vocal range.
Tonight's is not her first Carmen. "That came several years ago at another former movie theater, in Stamford, Connecticut," she recalls, "and next year I'll be one of the Carmens in the Met's new production."
The Washington production, with three performances over the weekend at the Warner, is a project of the National Lyric Opera, a locally based company founded in 1978 that has done such operas as "Aida" and "Faust." It is timed to coincide with the current rage in "Carmens" in cinema, dance and theater as well as opera. Richard Kness will play Jose; Theodore Lambrinos, Escamillo; and Marianna Christos, Micaela.
Isola Jones, who is in her thirties, may not yet be as rich and famous as she aspires to be, but she's moving along.
She didn't set out to be an opera singer. "I'm from Chicago, and my mother's an educator. So I went to Northwestern to become a music educator. But I also sang in the Chicago Symphony Chorus. Some of us would get singled out in solo passages. And one day during a rehearsal for a performance of the Verdi Requiem, including Leontyne Price and Luciano Pavarotti, Yvonne Minton was the mezzo and she got sick, so Sir Georg Solti, the Chicago Symphony's music director asked me to step in as the mezzo for that day."
That led to Jones' singing the role of a dryad in a subsequent Solti recording of Wagner's "Das Rheingold," which in turn led to her singing in a recording of "Porgy and Bess" with conductor Lorin Maazel.
Jones has been at the Met for eight years now. She joined as part of an ambitious apprentice program that James Levine established soon after becoming music director. The idea was to form a body of young singers who would provide the company with a solid source of talent for secondary roles, while they were developing.
"I had known Levine," says Jones, "and one day they just called.
"It was a grand opportunity. The Met was offering something that it needed, and I was getting something that I needed. All of my development has been a result of being in this kind of artistic setting. You just take it in.
"Jimmy Levine makes it all very easy for you. I swear that if he could go out there and sing it for you he would. This is one of the wonderful ways he expresses his genius, using young singers in the most effective ways. And he will also bring back old singers who have not been at the Met for a while and find new ways to use them.
"It's an unusual way to develop, rather than coming up the ladder from company to company. The Met is really the only company I've ever been a member of.
"But performances like these in Washington are another part of one's development. When I was called in the fall, I told them I would have to cancel two performances. But Jimmy said, 'Go ahead and do it if you have the chance.' "
And of other directions in her career, such as recitals and performances abroad?
"Well," she answers, "that's all a part of the package of being a singer. That recognition factor. It's what happens when you come through the door and the audience instantly reacts. Price has got it. Bumbry has got it. Nilsson. Rysanek. Norman.
"But I have not yet hired an agent. That's what agents do. Put you all over the globe."
At this point her newly married husband Russell Cormier, who has sat patiently through the conversation, interrupts. He is a former commercial artist and now a Central Park tennis instructor whom Jones met while taking lessons.
"Oh, yes, we do have to go," she says. "Russ has just got to see this Raphael at the National Gallery."