In the early 1980s, visionary Royal Shakespeare Company director Peter Brook teamed with composer Marius Constant and screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere to create The Tragedy of Carmen, a highly concentrated, 80-minute variation on Bizet's popular three-hour epic. French soprano (and proud Memphian) Marie-Stéphane Bernard had an opportunity to assist at one of the show's early productions and describes the work as a huge sensation. "It was incredible," she says. "So powerful, so new, and so modern."
The Tragedy of Carmen is the first of two intimate, and strikingly different, chamber operas being presented by Opera Memphis at this year's Midtown Opera Festival. The second is a bawdy 1911 farce by Maurice Ravel titled L'heure espagnole, which means "Spanish Time" and tells the story of a clockmaker's wife who attempts to hide three lovers from her husband. "It's a little jewel," says Bernard, who stars as the wife. "It's very funny, very feminine, and very avant garde."
In addition to appearing in L'heure espagnole, Bernard will also perform a concert titled April in Paris, which uses the music of Édith Piaf, Josephine Baker, and Charles Trenet to take audiences on a tour of France in the 1950s. "The idea came from my presence here in Memphis and from being French," she says, describing the street singers she enjoyed so much as a little girl. "We threw pennies from the windows, and they were happy," she recalls.
The Midtown Opera Festival always includes relevant programming by partner organizations. This year New Ballet Ensemble performs a festival-inspired version of its annual Springloaded concert, and Rhodes College's Dave Brubeck Festival stages a rare performance of the jazz maestro's seldom-seen musical, The Real Ambassadors.