The Sevillian seductress warns everyone at the start.
During her entrance in the first act, she sings, in one of the most famous arias of all time, “si je t’aime” – or, “If I love you” – well, then, watch out.
Carmen is a heartbreaker. She’s as sure-footed as she is sexy. And she knows it. She’s also a survivor.
“She’s very streetwise,” said Sandra Piques Eddy, who sings the title role in “Carmen,” opera’s favorite femme fatale, on Friday and Saturday nights. “She’s someone who’s probably stolen. She’s probably slept around. She does what she has to do to survive.”
Opera Coeur d’Alene and the Spokane Symphony are presenting a semi-staged production of Georges Bizet’s most popular opera at the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox. “Carmen” – in French with English supertitles – runs this weekend only.
Eckart Preu conducts. Jadd Davis directs. And Eddy has nothing but admiration for the character she portrays.
“She’s fiery. She’s wild. She can’t be tamed. She’s restless. She’s a nomad. She values freedom above everything else. She’s true to herself, and she doesn’t apologize for who she is.
“She’s such a delicious character.”
Despite her strength, Carmen, a gypsy and cigarette-factory worker, has moments in which she lets down her guard. “What makes her so interesting to me, as a performer,” Eddy said, “is that sense of vulnerability that is subtly shown to the audience, maybe when Don Jose isn’t looking.”
During the four-act opera, Carmen lures Don Jose, sung by tenor Dinyar Vania, not only from his duty as a soldier but from his beloved childhood sweetheart Micaela, sung by soprano Jennifer Babidge.
Then she leaves him for a bullfighter.
Escamillo, sung by baritone Matthew Hanscom, sweeps in during Act 2, recounting his latest triumph in the ring and quickly falling for Carmen who flirts with him but plays hard-to-get. Don Jose becomes jealous and, later, obsessed.
“I love this opera so much,” Eddy said. “It has everything. It has the famous familiar tunes. It has the violence. It has the sex. It has the romance. It has the idea of falling in love with the wrong person.”
For all of these reasons, “Carmen” is among the world’s most approachable operas. “It’s the perfect marriage of drama and music together,” Eddy said.
“Carmen” premiered in Paris on March 3, 1875, and Bizet died three months – to the day – later, never knowing the lasting impact of his music.
There’s the boisterous “Toreador Song,” which Escamillo sings as he arrives in Act 2 – all charm and bravado. And there’s the unforgettable “Habanera,” Carmen’s own entrance aria, in which she warns potential lovers, including Don Jose, to guard themselves, singing, “Love is a rebellious bird that none can tame.”
In that aria, Carmen identifies herself as a free-spirit who refuses to be restricted by moral, societal or religious norms – revolutionary for her era. “Carmen” is set in Seville in 1830.
“It was risqué,” said Eddy, who’s previously performed in “Carmen” with Vania. “Right off the bat, we already know each other. The rapport is really good. I think the audience will definitely feel that.”
Plus, Carmen is one of the mezzo-soprano’s favorite roles. She’s sung the part in 11 productions in the past eight years.
Eddy and the other principal singers will be accompanied by about 50 members of the Spokane Symphony Chorale. And the orchestra will perform on stage, alongside the singers, instead of in the pit.
That’s something that makes this production “more three-dimensional than usual,” Preu said. “… you not only watch the opera per se, but you actually see the innards of it as well. You’re much more aware of the inner musical workings. You kind of see into the clockwork.”
Much dialogue was cut from the production, lending a “very tight musical flow” to the show. “Very often you have the stop-and-go. Here, it’s going to be basically all musical, which condenses the time but also the drama.”
Knife fights. Suggestive dances. A “death” card during fortune-telling. A fatal stabbing. All set to memorable music.
“Pretty much every number is catchy,” Preu said. Bizet “was very, very precise about what he wanted. If you look at the score, you see exactly what he was going in terms of color when he tries to imitate gypsy music with a little triangle here or a tambourine there. You have to really play it with a lot of flair.”
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