Artistic Director Dale Johnson chooses repertoire, performers, conductors, directors, designers, and leads all aspects of artistic planning.
We conclude Minnesota Opera’s 2014–2015 season with a new production of Georges Bizet’s masterpiece, Carmen, one of the most popular operas performed today. As a 21st-century audience, it is hard for us to believe that the piece was ridiculed when it first premiered in 1875. Unlike Verdi and Puccini, who enjoyed success during their lifetimes with La traviata and Madame Butterfly, Bizet died shortly after the premiere of Carmen and never experienced its popularity and legacy.
The opera Carmen was based on a notorious short novel by Prosper Mérimée which depicts life as a gypsy. Mérimée is a character himself, as he tells the reader about a dangerous robber, Don José Navarro, who meets the beautiful girl Carmen. It is a fascinating story that uncovers the rather exotic yet brutal life of the gypsies. It’s not a surprise that Bizet was drawn to the vivid story of Carmen and her exploits.
Bizet created the opera in the style of an opéra comique with musical numbers separated by dialogue. Its premiere was held in Paris at the Opéra-Comique, where the initial reception was harsh. The opera was criticized as too shocking and the audience was appalled by the low moral standing of the majority of the characters.
Carmen, as an outsider living on the fringe of society, was the very antithesis of a “good” girl. She made her living as a cigarette factory worker, which alone made her suspect. In the first act of Carmen we see the men gather around to watch the exotic, sexy and enticing women as they take a break to smoke. Carmen uses her feminine wiles to make her way through life, never caged, never tamed. She wants to be free. Free she shall live and free she shall die.
Because it is a timeless story, the opera can easily be transported to many different locales and periods. Minnesota Opera’s new production of Carmen is set in the Franco era of Spain. The collaborative team of stage director Michael Cavanagh, set designer Erhard Rom and costume designer Jessica Jahn chose to recreate this time in history; a perfect setting for both the beauty and tragedy of Carmen. Leading the cast are several notable singers. French-Canadian mezzo-soprano Nora Sourouzian brings to our stage a vital characterization of the title role. Tenor Rafael Davila, who was applauded for his vocal and acting abilities in La fanciulla del West earlier this season, performs the role of corporal Don José. Bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen is acclaimed as one of the best Escamillos (toreadors) in the world and Norwegian Marita Sølberg makes her American debut as a peasant girl Micaëla. Music Director Michael Christie leads the Minnesota Opera Orchestra and Chorus. The alternating cast includes Victoria Vargas as Carmen, Cooper Nolan as Don José, Shannon Prickett as Micaëla and Richard Ollarsaba as Escamillo.