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Larry Stickler: Artist Series brings opera ‘Carmen’ back to Huntington

Feb. 17, 2014 @ 10:38 PM

There is no other woman in the world of opera like Carmen, the stunning Spanish gypsy, who is as passionate in her loves as she is for her freedom, totally unfettered by any code.

The Marshall Artist Series brings the opera “Carmen” to Huntington once again after 48 years. Performed by Teatro Lirico D’Europa (Lyric Theatre of Europe), “Carmen” will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 20 in the Keith-Albee Performing Arts Center. An operatic tour-de-force, “Carmen” will be sung in French with English supertitles and accompanied by a full orchestra.

The music for the opera was written by French composer Georges Bizet (1838-1875) to a libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halevy based on Prosper Merimee’s novel “Carmen.” This opera in 4 acts premiered at the Opera-Comique in Paris on March 3, 1875.

As famous as the opera is today, “Carmen” was not received well by all of the patrons at its premiere opening.  Its “indecency” shocked the Opera-Comique’s conservative audience and critics at the time described it as “immoral” and “low.”

Set in Seville in 1830, the seductive Carmen convinces a young corporal, Don Jose, to leave his current sweetheart, Micaela, and desert his regiment. She soon tires of Don Jose and leaves him for the flashy and roguish toreador Escamillo.  Passions boil to a tragic ending as Carmen tries to join the victorious bullfighter in the arena after her discarded lover fails to convince her to return. It is opera at its core - betrayal, jealousy, metamorphosis from law-abiding soldier to thief, smuggling, even murder.

Paul Henry Lang said “Carmen always reacts to the state of mind and character of the other protagonists. Don Jose is a simple soldier caught in a passion beyond his comprehension, and we witness the gradual disintegration of what was once a man of character. Carmen watches the vacillating demoralized man and moves in for the kill at the right moment.”

Bizet bestows on this musical score his greatest inventive powers of memorable melodies, colorful harmonies and rich orchestration. He understood how to compose for the human voice. “I have written a work that is all clarity and vivacity, full of color and melody,” he remarked.

“Carmen” belongs to the tradition of French opera comique, as we can tell both from the spoken dialogue and from the two-verse songs.

Usually my column is telling you about the upcoming simulcasts from the stage of the Metropolitan Opera to local movie theaters. Today, however, I wanted to tell you about “Carmen” coming to the Keith-Albee this Thursday. If you have never witnessed an opera in person, “Carmen” is a special treat. You will leave the theater singing or humming the music you just heard.

If you wish to learn more about “Carmen,” join me for a pre-show opera chat at 6 p.m. Thursday evening. I will be interviewing Giorgio Lalov, artist director of Teatro Lirico D’Europa, about this particular production.

Dr. Larry Stickler is professor of music at Marshall University.

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