Friday, April 1, 2016

What's Up With Midtown Opera Festival's Tragedy of Carmen?

Posted By on Fri, Apr 1, 2016 at 2:09 PM

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“A stage space has two rules: (1) Anything can happen and (2) Something must happen.” — Peter Brook

Opera Memphis' General Director Ned Canty has never been one to mince words. "If a singer can’t act it’s hard for me to hear them sing," he says. Canty developed the Midtown Opera Festival as an opportunity to present works that benefit from the intimacy of a small space, and give singers a real chance to show off their acting chops. That's what makes Peter Brook's The Tragedy of Carmen — a condensed, uniquely theatrical distillation of Bizet's popular opera — such a good fit.

Brook, a compulsively progressive artist, famous for his work as head of the Royal Shakespeare Company's experimental wing, had strong ideas about the strengths of opera, and the weaknesses of the art form. He developed The Tragedy of Carmen as an experiment to see how opera could be more theatrical. To do so he focused on just the four main characters, making them as believable and real as possible and spent 9-months rehearsing the piece in his usual collaborative style.

Joshua Borths, who directed The Tragedy of Carmen for Opera Memphis likes how Brook played with audience expectations, re-arranging the score for a smaller orchestra, but calling for a recording of the full orchestra playing the overture at the end of the show.

Brook has always seen words as the castings of impulse, and understood how even the finest points of view are relative, expiring shortly after they're expressed. To that end, he's shown a special gift for using context and theatrical devices to sharpen edges dulled by changing sensibilities.

"While it is all the same music and the same characters it’s a very different theatrical experience than seeing the full Carmen with a chorus and ensembles that bring a lightness to the piece," Borths says. "This is a much darker take on the story." And that's saying something, considering how shocked French audiences were by the immorality, and lawlessness on display in Bizet's original. 

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