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Stellar voices, full orchestra deliver passionate tale of doomed love as Pacific Symphony’s next semi-staged Opera brings to life Bizet’s “Carmen”
Orange County, Calif. — January 29, 2015
Led by Music Director Carl St.Clair, Pacific Symphony’s opera-vocal initiative, “Symphonic Voices,” continues with what is often called the world’s most popular opera: “Carmen,” Bizet’s riveting tale of love and lust about the downfall of Don José, a naïve soldier who is seduced by the fiery Gypsy, Carmen. Featuring the composer’s exquisite music, presented in a uniquely staged production over three nights, the orchestra is joined by a cast of world-class opera stars directed by Dean Anthony, including mezzo-soprano Milena Kitić as Carmen and tenor Andrew Richards as Don José, plus Pacific Chorale and Southern California Children’s Chorus.
This semi-staged production includes acting, staging, scenic design, special lighting, costumes and props. St.Clair and the orchestra deliver this newly inspired performance on Thursday, Feb. 19; Saturday, Feb. 21; and Tuesday, Feb. 24, at 8 p.m., in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall; a preview talk with Alan Chapman begins at 7 p.m. each evening. Tickets are $45-$119; for more information or to purchase tickets, call (714) 755-5799 or visit www.PacificSymphony.org.
“We’re so fortunate to have one of the consummate Carmens in our midst with Milena Kitić, who is artist-in-residence at Chapman University,” says Maestro St.Clair. “She’s sung this role in the major houses of the world. It’s her role, and it’s wonderful she’s here. And we’re surrounding her with a cast that has sung these roles numerous times with leading companies.”
Sung in French with English translations projected above the stage, “Carmen” is set in Seville, Spain in the early 19th century. The story follows soldier Don José, who falls for the tempting Gypsy, Carmen, the most popular worker at the local cigarette factory, who teasingly sings about the contrary ways of love. José abandons his childhood sweetheart and agrees to a rendezvous with Carmen, whom he is supposed to arrest for fighting with another worker. He lets her escape and is arrested and released. To prove his love for Carmen, he leaves his military duties and joins her, but his world is turned upside down by Carmen’s desire for the striking toreador Escamillo and a life that is free. José is sent into a murderous rage, and… you’ll have to experience “Carmen” to find out how it ends!
“Carmen is a free spirit who values her freedom—and whatever she considers happiness—the most,” says soprano Kitić. “In the end of the fourth act she clearly says: ‘I am born free and will die free, if to die is my destiny. I know you will kill me, so go ahead.’ Carmen is a Gypsy, extremely superstitious, a woman with no real home. There are a good number of Gypsies in Serbia, where I grew up, and I observed them most of my life. I think I learned to understand Carmen well.”
Kitić is the fiery Carmen, a role this opera star performed throughout Germany, Austria, The Netherlands, Belgium and the Czech Republic. In addition to making her Metropolitan Opera debut as Carmen, local opera fans may recall her debut in 2003 with Opera Pacific as Herodias in “Salome,” and her performance in the company’s benefit concert with Plácido Domingo and conductor John De Main. In 2007, Kitić became the inaugural recipient of the artist-in-residence award given by Chapman University, where she is currently an adjunct professor and master class instructor. She also leads classes at USC and UC Irvine, and lives in Newport Beach.
“Kitić has turned into a powerful vocal performer, her lows ringing richly, her highs closely focused, her phrasing elegantly disciplined,” says Timothy Mangan for Opera News.
Bizet’s score contains intoxicating melodies highlighted by some of opera’s finest arias and best-loved moments, including the seductive “Habanera” and the heroic “Toreador Song.” “I’d say that the whole score is my favorite, truly phenomenal music and with good reason the most popular opera work,” continues Kitić. “For me, as Carmen, it’s especially interesting to illustrate the transformation of the first two acts that are so seductive and playful, and the last two acts that are the opposite, dramatic and fatalistic. I also appreciate the way Bizet captured the flavor of Spain.”
Tenor Richards stars as Don José, a role he debuted at Metropolitan Opera during the 2012-13 season and has sung with opera companies around the world. Of his performance in the 2009 production of “Carmen” at Opéra Comique, The New York Times said Richards “proved a vocally rewarding Don José, singing with a strong, ardent voice that invested his big aria, the Flower Song, with delicate phrases.”
In addition to Kitić and Richards, the stellar cast includes Elizabeth Caballero (as Micaela), the stunning Cuban-American soprano whom Symphony audiences remember from her performance as Violeta in last season’s “La Traviata,” Bass-baritone Konstantin Smoriginas is Escamillo, mezzo-soprano Sarah Larsen is Mercédès, soprano Amanda Opuszynski is Frasquita, bass Andrew Gangestad is Zuniga, baritone Keith Harris is Moralès and Le Dancaïre and tenor Jonathan Blalock is Le Remendado. Pacific Chorale, led by Artistic Director John Alexander and Southern California Children’s Chorus, led by Founding Director Lori Loftus, are also featured.
Stage director Anthony has enjoyed a 25-year career as both a tenor and director. He recently directed productions of “Carmen” for Tulsa Opera, Pensacola Opera and Florentine Opera, and is a faculty member at the University of Memphis as opera stage director.
The technical team includes Matt Scarpino, scenic designer; Kathy Pryzgoda, lighting designer; Kathryn Wilson, costume coordinator; Ora Jewell-Busche, wig and make-up coordinator; and William Pruett, props coordinator.
“Symphonic Voices,” the initiative to return opera back to Orange County after the closure of Opera Pacific in 2008, has been drawing on the expertise of St.Clair since its inception—as it was his career in opera that set the stage for the ambitious venture. During his tenure at the Komische Oper Berlin, St.Clair led acclaimed productions of “La Traviata” and the world premiere of Christian Jost’s “Hamlet” as well as the heralded production of “Lear” by Aribert Reimann, one of Germany’s most distinguished composers. And as the former general music director and chief conductor of the German National Theater and Staatskapelle in Weimar, Germany, he led Wagner’s “Ring Cycle” to great critical acclaim.
“Symphonic Voices” began in 2012 with the highly successful production of Puccini’s “La Bohème,” followed by Puccini’s “Tosca” in 2013, Verdi’s “La Traviata” in 2014, and now in 2015 with Bizet’s “Carmen.”
Honorary Producers of “Carmen” are Paul and Marybelle Musco. The Tuesday, Feb. 24, performance is sponsored by Symphony 100. Pacific Symphony’s Classical series performances are made possible by the Hal and Jeanette Segerstrom Family Foundation, with additional support from Mercedes-Benz, Avenue of the Arts Wyndham Hotel, KUSC and PBS SoCal.
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