Mezzo-soprano Joyce Castle is not afraid to thumb her nose at the aristocracy.
"She's quite a fuddy-duddy," Castle says of no less a personage than the Marquise de Birkenfeld.
But she can get away with such an affront to a member of the ruling class, for a couple of reasons.
First, the Marquise is a fictional character who will be sung by Castle in the Fort Worth Opera's production of Gaetano Donizetti's comic opera, The Daughter of the Regiment, which opens Saturday at Bass Hall.
And second, in opera circles, Castle is pretty much royalty herself.
"I am so wedded to this life. I have never known anything else," said the Beaumont-born artist, who has sung professionally for more than 40 years (including a great deal of work with the New York City Opera, in particular), amassing a list of more than 130 roles performed.
Her status in her field was dramatically evidenced by the celebration of her 40th anniversary in music in 2010, when she performed a new song cycle, The Hawthorn Tree, composed in her honor by William Bolcom, one of America's greatest living classical composers.
So, given all those accomplishments, why does she still trod the boards?
"Because I can," said Castle, who now teaches at her alma mater, the University of Kansas. "One of the reasons I am enjoying a long career is because I'm a mezzo. I'm not limited to singing the romantic lead. In one opera, I'm the mother. In the next, I am a witch. And the next, I'm a man."
In The Daughter of the Regiment, the third production to open as part of this year's Fort Worth Opera Festival, she plays an aunt -- sort of. It would be giving away too much to reveal exactly what the marquise does in this sweetly funny and vocally dazzling opera about an orphan girl (Marie) who is lovingly raised by a troop of soldiers. But it can be revealed that Castle gets to have some fun lording things over her fellow players.
"I get to teach the soprano how to sing in the first scene of the second act. All of us mezzos love to tell the sopranos how to sing," says the striking redhead with a twinkle in her eye, before quickly adding, "although Ava Pine [as Marie] does not need anyone to teach her how to sing."
She is also enjoying giving the butler grief.
"I love to say that the general director is my servant," says Castle, referring to the fact that Fort Worth Opera head Darren Woods is playing the role of the marquise's right-hand man, Hortensius. "Darren and I go way back. We met at the Santa Fe Opera [where both were performing]. He is a very brilliant man."
So Castle, who performed in the Fort Worth Opera's production of The Turn of the Screw in 2003, is very much among friends here, as she probably is in almost any opera hall.
"When I feel my voice isn't working anymore, I'll get off the stage," she says.
But no one seems to be able to see that day on the horizon, which means Marie and Hortensius are not off the hook yet.