Go inside this production of Carmen with engaging articles, notes from the director, a complete plot synopsis, artist bios, and more.
Carmen! What a magically alluring character she is in literature, film, theater, and dance. But it’s in opera that she’s made her biggest impact, as the center of a work that, for musical freshness, dramatic power, and sheer atmosphere, remains unsurpassed.
The way Lyric – and all other companies producing Georges Bizet’s Carmen – can deal with the appeal of this thrilling piece is first to acknowledge that at this point it is perhaps the world’s most popular and best-known opera, boasting a larger number of hit tunes than in any other opera. Obviously, we need to present it in a way that captures its dramatic excitement and energy. At the same time, however, we have the challenge of ensuring that our production offers more than a nostalgic journey through our favorite tunes. And that is indeed a formidable challenge for any company! If what we present to our audiences doesn’t try to recapture the impact that caused such a scandal – but then such a success – at the first Carmen performances, then we’ll be failing in our responsibility to this masterpiece. We want to capture its theatricality, as well as the vividness of the characters and their relationships, while also delivering the “thrill factor” in each and every memorable melody.
And what melodies they are! Carmen’s Habanera and Seguidilla, Don José’s Flower Song, Escamillo’s Toreador Song, Micaëla’s exquisite Act Three aria – we discover all of this music anew and with joy. There is, too, the magic of Bizet’s orchestration, which conjures up a dazzling image of sun-drenched Seville. This season at Lyric we’re also presenting the work with spoken dialogue, which will greatly enhance the immediacy and dramatic punch of this wonderful opera. We’re delighted to present Carmen in a new production, created by a team headed by Rob Ashford, who has directed both The Barber of Seville (his operatic debut) and Carousel so successfully at Lyric. Those who remember Carousel will realize how perfect Rob is for Carmen, thanks to his very keen choreographic focus and his gifts as a master storyteller.
The performances will be divided between two exceptionally gifted conductors: Harry Bicket, music director of The Santa Fe Opera, now branching out with triumphant success from the pre-1800 repertoire that established him internationally; and Ainārs Rubiķis (Lyric debut), the Latvian conductor who has embarked on a meteoric ascent to stardom since winning the Salzburg Festival Young Conductors Award in 2010.
As usual with the most popular operas when we stage them at Lyric, Carmen will benefit from the performances of two different couples in the central roles – we hope you’ll give yourself the pleasure of hearing them both! Carmen’s cast of world-renowned stars includes two pairs of protagonists. Anita Rachvelishvili – in an eagerly awaited Lyric debut – will perform opposite Brandon Jovanovich, each reprising roles they have performed all over the world. Ekaterina Gubanova, Lyric’s glamorous Foreign Princess in Rusalka, will portray Carmen opposite the hero of last season’s Romeo and Juliet, Joseph Calleja, who added Don José to his repertoire last season. Ryan Opera Center alumnus Christian Van Horn portrays Escamillo, after singing Narbal in Les Troyens last fall, and Lyric audiences will meet for the first time an entrancing young Italian soprano, Eleonora Buratto, who will sing Micaëla. We’re delighted that you’re here to savor the joys of Carmen with us!
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In a town square in Seville, Spain, soldiers guarding the cigarette factory idly watch the passersby. Micaëla, a young country girl, enters the square in search of one of the soldiers, Don José. Led by an officer, Moralès, the soldiers surround her and try to detain her, but Micaëla flees.
Afterwards, José’s military unit arrives. At noon, the young men of the town gather to watch the women as they come out of the cigarette factory on a break from work. One of the women, the gypsy Carmen, tells her friends that love is “a wild bird that cannot be imprisoned.” Before returning to work, she flirtatiously tosses a flower at Don José. Micaëla returns, this time with a letter from José’s mother. José resolves to honor his mother’s wishes by marrying Micaëla.
Suddenly, screams are heard from the factory: Carmen has been involved in a fight and has slashed another woman’s face. While Lieutenant Zuniga drafts the order for her imprisonment, she is put into José’s custody. Carmen persuades him to let her escape by promising a future rendezvous.
At Lillas Pastia’s inn, Carmen and two friends, Frasquita and Mercédès, sing of the gypsy life. Lieutenant Zuniga tells Carmen that José was thrown in prison for allowing her to escape, but that he has just been released. The bullfighter Escamillo arrives with his entourage and asks Carmen if she will ever love him. Dancaïre and Remendado, two revolutionaries, try to convince Carmen and her friends to accompany them on their next mission, but Carmen refuses, saying she is in love with José and is awaiting his return.
When José arrives, Carmen sings and dances for him, but a distant bugle sounds and he says he must return to the barracks immediately. She invites him to desert the army and join the revolutionaries, but he refuses, and Carmen mocks his cowardice. As he is leaving, José encounters Zuniga, who has come in hopes of seeing Carmen. The jealous José strikes his superior officer. Now an outlaw, he has no choice but to desert the army and join Carmen and her friends.
The revolutionaries are busy moving their shipment of rifles through the dangerous hillside. Carmen, now tired of José’s jealousy, reads her fortune in the playing cards. She draws the death card.
When the revolutionaries head down the mountain to bribe the customs officer, José is left as a lookout. On her way up the mountain to find José, Micaëla hears a rifle shot and takes cover. José has fired a warning shot at Escamillo, who has come in search of Carmen. Escamillo tells José he is in love with Carmen and they start to fight but are separated by the returning gang. Remendado then discovers Micaëla, who has come to beg José to return home to his dying mother. Carmen urges him to leave; José is convinced she wants to be rid of him in order to take up with Escamillo. José leaves with Micaëla, warning Carmen that he will come back.
An excited crowd gathers for the bullfight. Outside the ring, Frasquita and Mercédès pull Carmen aside and tell her to be careful because José has been seen in the crowd. Carmen, however, ignores their warnings and bravely remains for a final encounter. José pleads desperately with her to come back to him. As she tells him she can never love him again, the crowd is heard cheering Escamillo’s victory in the ring. Realizing that he can never possess Carmen, José stabs her to death.
Reprinted by permission of Houston Grand Opera