Montréal, April 9th, 2019 – Sold out since the month of February, the Opéra de Montréal’s new Carmen — filmmaker Charles Binamé’s first foray into operatic stage direction — promises to be exceptional! This public success not only confirms the popularity of Bizet’s work but also demonstrates just how enthused people are about the institution’s new vision of opera as a showcase par excellence for Quebec’s greatest creative artists.
This is a truly colossal production of Carmen: 374 people are involved in each performance, both on-stage and behind the scenes—from the soloists and craftspeople, to choristers, musicians, dancers, actors, and technicians. Michel Beaulac, Artistic Director of the Opéra de Montréal, adds: “To get this new production where it needs to go and fulfill Charles Binamé’s vision, we have changed our rehearsal process for the show. Alongside the designing of the sets, costumes, and lighting, Charles Binamé has been working with the soloists for over a year to thoroughly develop their characters. The all-Canadian cast has embraced this magnificent work with great enthusiasm!”
“We are so energized by the enthusiasm surrounding our new Carmen,” says Patrick Corrigan, General Director of the Opéra de Montréal. “Our commitment to inviting great Quebec creative artists working outside the world of opera—and having their creative genius benefit our discipline—is generating excitement throughout the entire Opéra family! This vision will be clearly represented in our upcoming seasons as well, notably with two world premieres of works by Michel-Marc Bouchard and the involvement of several other great local creators, including renowned couturier Philippe Dubuc next season.”
With a very favourable reception for the institution’s 2019-2020 season, the crowning of Svadba as Musical Event of the Year at the recent Opus Awards, and a current season coming to a close before sold-out houses—including an added performance—, we can truthfully say that the Opéra de Montréal has the wind in its sails!
Charles Binamé’s singular creative process, which involved exploring the characters with the soloists for over a year, required a cast made up of Canadian singers who were open to taking a fresh look at this great classic of the repertoire. Heading up this completely Canadian cast, mezzo-soprano Krista de Silva portraysthe famous gypsy, with tenor Antoine Bélanger in the role of the transfixed corporal Don José. Baritone Christopher Dunham appears as the toreador Escamillo and France Bellemare—one year after making her Metropolitan Opera debut—sings the role of Micaëla. Mezzo-soprano Pascale Spinney and soprano Magali Simard-Galdès—two young graduates of the Atelier lyrique de l’Opéra de Montréal who today enjoy enviable international careers—complete the trio of bohemians, singing the roles of Mercédès and Frasquita respectively. Bass-baritones César Naassy (Zuniga) and Alexandre Sylvestre (Moralès), tenor Éric Thériault (Remendado), and baritone Dominique Côté (Le Dancaire) complete the cast.
In addition to directing this new production, filmmaker Charles Binamé also adapted some of the work’s dialogue. His colleague and friend, conductor Alain Trudel—a frequent guest of the Opéra de Montréal—leads the Orchestre Métropolitain for this completely unique, “made in Quebec” version of Carmen. In addition to acting as the musical director for this production, Alain Trudel also arranged interludes based on Bizet’s music to accompany the dialogue in the piece! The Opéra de Montréal Chorus, choristers from Les Petits chanteurs du Mont-Royal, and several dancers and supernumeraries also take part in this large-scale production.
Seville, in Spain. Arrested following a quarrel, Carmen, a gypsy with a fiery temperament, seduces corporal Don José, who is engaged to Micaëla. Carmen promises José her love if he helps her escape; he frees her but is sent off to jail for doing so. Upon his release two months later, José finds Carmen and is introduced to her friends, a group of smugglers. For Carmen, José will become a deserter, expressing as much passion as jealousy for the gypsy woman, who ends up rejecting him. Micaëla arrives, managing to get José to return to his dying mother’s bedside. Carmen’s final encounter with Don José takes place outside of the arena in Seville: the beautiful gypsy is with her new lover, the toreador Escamillo. In an ultimate confrontation, José tries to convince Carmen to return to him. Desperate, he begs, pleads, and threatens her, but she defiantly refuses… He stabs her, then confesses his crime.
Georges Bizet was born in 1838 into a family of musicians; his father and uncle were singers, while his mother was a pianist. She was the one who truly introduced him to music and enrolled him in the Paris Conservatory to study piano, when he was just nine years old. At the Conservatory, he studied and developed a friendship with his composition instructor, Halévy, and also met Charles Gounod. In 1856, he won first prize for the operetta Le Docteur Miracle, which he composed for a competition presided over by Offenbach. He went on to win the Prix de Rome in 1857. His stay at the Villa Medici allowed him to explore the Eternal City and to discover the operas of Verdi, who was at his creative peak in 1850s Italy. Bizet returned to Paris in 1860, spending time with the great composers of his day, like Offenbach—who introduced him to Rossini—, the pianist Liszt—whom he met coming out of a Paris performance of Wagner’s Tannhäuser—, and Gounod—with whom he continued to correspond and who would remain his mentor.
After having started and abandoned several opera projects, the young composer received a number of commissions from the Théâtre Lyrique during the 1860s, thanks to its director Léon Carvalho: an 1863 premiere of Les Pêcheurs de perles, followed closely by Ivan IV—abandoned and premiered posthumously in 1951—, and lastly, La jolie fille de Perth in 1867. In 1869, Bizet married Geneviève Halévy, daughter of his former composition teacher, and completed his late father-in-law’s unfinished opera entitled Noé. After serving in the National Guard during the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, Bizet was successively appointed to two positions: that of chorus master at the Opéra de Paris, which he left to become a vocal coach at the Opéra-Comique. Following performances of his opera Djamileh in 1872, Bizet was commissioned to write the opera that would go on to become his most famous work, Carmen. In 1875, Bizet’s status as a composer was truly confirmed: he was decorated with the Legion of Honour on the day of Carmen’s premiere at the Opéra-Comique in March, three months before his sudden death. While the work was not very well received or reviewed at first, several composers—including Saint-Saëns, Brahms, and Tchaikovsky—came to its defense before Carmen went on to win over the public, establishing Bizet as one of the major figures in French opera of the 19th century.
LET’S TALK OPERA – FREE
The Opéra de Montréal is heading out to meet the public and talk about opera. Let’s Talk Opera! is a free series serving as an introduction to each opera in our season. Join musicologist Pierre Vachon, a pianist, and singers to get to the heart of each work in just 90 minutes (including a coffee break). History, music, voices, cultural context, composer, style… it all adds up to a wonderful time!
Dates and information: letstalkopera.operademontreal.com
Opera : Carmen, by Georges Bizet
Genre : Opéra-comique
Structure : 4 acts
Language : in French with English and French surtitles
Libretto : Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy
Creation : March 3rd, 1875
Production : Opéra de Montréal
May 4, 7, 9, 11 and 13, 2019 at 7:30 pm
Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier of Place des Arts
175 Saint-Catherine St, Montreal, QC H2X 1Y9
Starting at $25
Place des Arts box office: 514-842-2112 | 1 866 842-2112
Opéra de Montréal box office: 514-985-2258 | 1 877 385-2222 | operademontreal.com