November 22, 2022
Get to know: Bizet's Carmen
The heroine of Bizet's Carmen is the most intriguing, alluring, endlessly fascinating woman in opera. A free spirit who lives her life by her own rules, she takes what she wants from one man and then moves confidently on to the next. She's a woman who knows exactly what she wants and who she is.
Bizet's opera takes us to Seville, where Carmen, when we first meet her, is working in a cigarette factory. In a classic case of fatal attraction, the corporal Don José falls instantly in love with her (although he was planning to marry Micaëla, a sweet girl from back home). When Carmen is taken into custody for injuring a co-worker, José allows her to escape and goes to prison. After he's released, he comes to see her at a tavern, but in a jealous rage he strikes a fellow officer and is forced to desert the army, joining Carmen and her smuggler friends. His violent jealousy of Carmen's new lover (the bullfighter Escamillo), finally leads to a final, disastrous encounter between José and Carmen, who remains defiant even in the face of death.
How astonishing it seems that Carmen was considered a failure when it premiered in Paris in 1875. Who could have resisted this spectacular music and riveting drama? Audiences soon realized what a thrilling masterpiece this is, and since then, Carmen has never lost its hold on the public. Here in Chicago, it has enthralled Lyric audiences again and again. That has a lot to do with Carmen herself and three of her famous arias, each one glorious musically and vocally: the spellbinding Habanera, alluring Seguidilla, and devastatingly dramatic Card Scene. Carmen's confrontations with Don José are among the most incendiary, hair-raising scenes in all opera. But there's so much more to enjoy, including José's fervent, lovesick Flower Song; Micaela's heartfelt prayer, Escamillo's magnificent Toreador Song, and choruses that bring all the color and energy of 19th-century Spain irresistibly to life.
Making her eagerly awaited return to Lyric is Ryan Opera Center alumna J'Nai Bridges. Hugely acclaimed in this country and Europe as one of the most remarkable mezzo-sopranos of her generation, she's rapidly established herself as a leading interpreter of Carmen's title role. You can expect her to stun audiences with a smoldering charisma to match her luscious voice, while reveling in a terrific chemistry with her Don José. In that role will be one of Lyric's favorite tenors, Charles Castronovo, whose singing and acting have thrilled Chicago audiences in operas of Mozart, Donizetti, and Tchaikovsky. There will be two important Lyric debuts: the luminous South African lyric soprano Golda Schultz (Micaëla) and bronze-voiced Russian baritone Andrei Kymach, 2019 winner of the prestigious BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition.
With Henrik Nánási's fiery conducting, the illuminating staging of Marie Lambert-Le Bihan, and the dazzlingly colorful designs by set designer Robin Don and costume designer Robert Perdziola, Lyric's Carmen will make audiences fall in love with Bizet's masterpiece all over again.