Thursday, 25 September 2014 16:54

There Ain’t No Fat Lady In Carmen

Written by  Allison Parker
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Opera Grand Rapids Opera Grand Rapids

Carmen
Opera Grand Rapids
DeVos Performance Hall
Oct. 31 & Nov. 1, 7:30 p.m.
$47-70
operagr.com, (616) 451-2741

Whether you realize it or not, you are probably already familiar with Carmen. One of the most popular operas in existence, the tempestuous tragedy has permeated American culture, with references popping up in everything from Doritos ads to the Pixar film, Up.

If, for some reason, the only Carmen you know has the last name San Diego, you still know more about the opera than you think. You’ve seen enough pseudo-Cinderella flicks to know about romancing someone from a different social class. You’ve felt the anguish of unrequited infatuation when your celeb crush finally ties the knot. And you certainly know what it’s like to allow fits of passion to drive you to do something stupid. Like most great operas, Carmen resonates at a universal level because it addresses essential human struggles and desires.

The opera’s plot centers around the femme fatale Carmen, a cigarette factory worker as smoldering and addictive as the products she manufactures. While Carmen’s irresistible attributes allow her to dominate the men in her path, her seductive charms ultimately end up being her undoing.

Even when presented with such a dramatic storyline, some newcomers may have difficulty envisioning a trip to the opera as a rousing and moving experience. Those tensely bracing themselves for a dull performance of mature, wooden actors are in for a surprise, however.

“Don’t expect to come to the opera house these days and see a lot of people who are very static and just stand around on stage to sound good,” Conductor and Artistic Director Robert Lyall said. “You get much more total theatre now. I’m so happy with the changes in the style that have evolved over the past couple of decades …

I audition [the actors] in New York City, and I try to take a lot of care in casting so that people look like the characters and they sing well, and that they can really act. So what people can do is set aside that old ‘It ain’t over till the fat lady sings’ because the Carmen is quite beautiful and there ain’t no fat lady.”

In keeping with its careful casting, the visual design of Opera Grand Rapids’ performance is also constructed to create vivid, believable characters. While the story is universal enough to unfold in nearly any place and time, traditional sets allow for a natural feel and prevent the backgrounds from pulling focus from the characters.

“These are traditional settings and the set that we’re using from New Orleans Opera will in fact convey just that—that it’s traditional recognizable settings, not abstract," Lyall said. "So that the attention instead of causing people to think why did they put it there or why did they choose that kind of look, they can focus on the characters and their costumes and their attitude and their singing.”

 

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