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Opera version of ‘Carmen’ to take Ohio State stage, aimed at students

Courtesy of Matthew Hazard

 

College-aged students might not be too inclined to spend part of their weekend attending an opera, but A. Scott Parry,  Ohio State School of Music’s Director of Opera, said students will be enticed by his reconception of Georges Bizet’s “Carmen.”

The One-Act Opera Comique is scheduled to take place at the Drake Performance and Event Center on Saturday and Sunday. 

“The way we have approached opera of previous has been about this somewhat over-bloated sense about what it is,” Parry said. “And there’s some conventions to the opera form that people of a younger generation don’t necessarily connect to right away, because it becomes something fairly rarefied.”

Part of the plan with Parry’s “Carmen” is to pull the younger generation into opera, he said. 

“What I am trying to do here is take opera and put it in a form and format and style and approach that is much more acceptable to the current generation,” Parry said. 

“Carmen” was first performed at the Opéra-Comique in Paris, in 1875. Since then it has become one of the most renowned operas.  

“‘Carmen’ is the most performed (opera) in the repertory probably,” said Mark Swanson, director of instrumental music at Amherst College and conductor of the “Carmen” orchestra. “It is the most famous, perhaps the most influential opera ever written.” 

Swanson cited Giacomo Puccini, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Gustav Mahler as composers influenced by Bizet’s opera. 

The basic theme of “Carmen” is Don José’s conflict between MicaÃla, the love of his childhood, and Carmen. The title character seduces José away from MicaÃla, but ultimately leaves him for another man. In its traditional performance, the story is told from José’s viewpoint as he sits in jail recollecting how he got there and how he is about to be executed. 

“Carmen is just this siren, this devil of a woman who lures this guy away from the girl back home,” Swanson said. “That’s really over-simplifying, but that’s really sort of a basic dramatic theme of it.”

Parry’s version, rather than being about three hours in length compiled by four acts like the original, is 90 minutes with one act and no intermission. The shortening of the opera brings it up-to-date, Parry said. 

Additionally, Parry altered the viewpoint of the original source material so that the story is understood from multiple characters’ points of view, not just José’s viewpoint. It is “psychologically focused,” Parry said.
The advent of technology has allowed the younger generation to multitask more efficiently, making them more capable of understanding a story from several points of view, Parry said.

“Instead of it being this realistic drama about this woman named Carmen, I tried to make it about this soldier Don José and his memories about what was that like to find that woman, Carmen,” Parry said. 

Olga Perez, a doctoral candidate in vocal performance at OSU’s School of Music, plays the title character in the opera. She played the role of Carmen once before at the Amarillo Opera in Amarillo, Texas, in 2007. Her previous performance was in a traditional setting, unlike Parry’s version, she said. 

“Scott’s (Parry’s) vision is just really fresh,” Perez said. She added that the role of Carmen in Parry’s reconception is “much more naturalistic” and “more realistic.” She said she initially struggled with this newly found vulnerability in the character.  

Regardless of the form “Carmen” takes, in its traditional inception or Parry’s, its prevalence cannot be denied, Swanson said. Its popularity can be attributed to the opera’s ubiquitous quality and its ability to pull out “fundamental truths” about the self, he added. 

“(‘Carmen’) will really speak some fundamental truths. People will learn things about themselves and about life,” Swanson said. “That’s what the greatest opera does; it talks about universal themes that apply to all of us. I think everyone – man, woman, at any age or at any level of experience ­- will be able to take away from ‘Carmen’ and particularly this version of ‘Carmen,’ something that really will shed some light on what they’re going through.”

“Carmen,” a One-Act Opera Comique, is slated to be performed on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. The performances will take place in Thurber Theatre, inside the Drake Performance and Event Center, located at 1849 Cannon Drive. Tickets are $20 general admission but are free to OSU students, faculty and staff. 

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