"Carmen" comes fresh and correct to the Alamo City

Submitted by Jason Gil on October 26, 2016 - 5:47pm

A truly talented cast and crew are bringing Carmen to the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts on Oct. 27 and 29, 2016.

The story isn’t new on how Carmen came into being: Georges Bizet predominately worked in the genres of opera, wrote orchestral music, and songs for piano. Bizet was from that hip, intellectual area of Paris known as Montmartre; and he attended the Paris Conservatoire (a place of grooming for talented performers and composers); won the Rome Prize and lived on the government's dime from 1857-1860; and later had some success with one of his earlier minor operas, The Pretty Maid of Perth (1867).

Bizet, however, did not meet with success in life, but rather, he became famous in death. The criticism Carmen received during his lifetime was negative, and it wasn’t until shortly after his death in 1875 that Carmen was brought to life in Vienna by Ernest Guiraud. Guiraud set the opera to recitative (sung with the rhythm of ordinary speech), and it was this production that paved the way for success in London, New York and other cosmopolitan cities.

It is this gritty arrival of storytelling that makes Carmen one of the greatest operas of all time. The San Antonio Symphony’s guest conductor, Garrett Keast, worked diligently with director Conor Hanratty’s vision and James Schuette’s costume and scenery design to bring a phenomenal cast everything needed to pull off a memorable Carmen.

Hanratty, an opera and theater director from Dublin, Ireland has had much success as of late, including working with the Glimmerglass Festival in New York with renowned American Opera and theater director Francesca Zambello, the artistic and general director of Glimmerglass Festival since 2011. Guest conductor Garrett Keast, Houston born, and Berlin-based, will be at the helm of the San Antonio Symphony to bring Hanratty’s direction to life. This is world class opera with a young conductor whose credentials include being mentored by Christoph Eschenbach (Houston Symphony) and becoming associate conductor of New York City opera.

In demand as a guest conductor, recent engagements have included stints with the NDR Radio Sinfonieorchester (Hamburg); MDR Leipzig Radio Sinfonieorchester; Prague Philharmonia; and Orchestre National Bordeaux Aquitaine -  just to name a few. This young conductor has the drive for developing fresh and relevant work in modern orchestral works. An extremely vibrant conductor such as Keast has a full schedule for 2016-2017. He has many performances ahead of him that span the United States and Europe, Carmen being one of several.

The talent doesn’t wane. Kirsten Chávez, mezzo-soprano, is considered one of the best Carmens to have graced the stage. She is the daughter of music and english teachers, and spent her years growing up in Malaysia.  She has a Masters degree in music performance from Eastman. When writing of her performance in Austria, the Opera News reports that hers was “the Carmen of a lifetime. With her dark, generous mezzo, earthy eroticism, volcanic spontaneity and smoldering charisma, Chávez has it all, including a superb command of French and a sense of humor.”

Don José is being played by Adam Diegel, another powerful voice that is also no stranger to the Metropolitan Opera. He’s played Carmen’s Don José s in several opera houses, Australia’s Opéra Handa In Sydney Harbor and coincidentally at the Glimmerglass Festival in Ireland.

Ryan Speedo Green, as the character Escamillo, rounds out the ensemble with his bass-baritone. At the age of 30, Green came from a delinquent background.  His was a troubled youth and a stint in a juvenile detention center could have easily kept him from a journey of self-realization; one of developing his innate talents. Yet he prevailed.

Having seen Denyce Graves in the role of Carmen, during a class field-trip to the Metropolitan Opera, Green was mesmerized. It was the impetus that lead to his dream of singing at the Metropolitan Opera.

In a New York Times article about the bass-baritone’s rocky start and change of course for the better, a quote from Green closes the story: “If I read that, and you asked me, ‘Where is this kid now?’” he said, “I would never tell you they probably have two degrees and have a wife and are living in Europe and are singing at the Metropolitan Opera.”    

Rounding off the cast, the director, and conductor is James Schuettes. He is the winner of the 2002 Joseph Jefferson Award for scenic design in Steppenwolf Theater’s production of The Royal Family, contribution to costume and scenery.  He was also involved with the Glimmerglass Festival. He was also the set and costume designer for Carmen at the Glimmerglass Festival in 2015.

It proves to be, through the accumulated history of all the players out front and behind the scenes, that a tale of love; jealousy; revenge; and a loss of one’s moral compass leading up to murder, will be brought to the Alamo City shortly.  World class action has truly arrived.

Tickets for both performances can be purchased online at www.tobincenter.org, via phone (210) 223-8624 and in-person at The Tobin Center’s Box Office.

**Cover photo courtesy of the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts. Photo by Lynn Lane.