NH Philharmonic and Opera NH team up on orchestral version of Bizet's grand tale

NH Weekend Editor
January 24. 2018 1:11PM

Vocalist Angela Jajko stars in the title role in “Carmen” Saturday and Sunday at the Stockbridge Theatre in Derry. 
If you go...
WHAT: 'Carmen'

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday

WHERE: Stockbridge Theatre at Pinkerton Academy, Derry

TICKETS: $12 to $50, with discounts for seniors. No cost for ages 18 and younger

INFO: nhphil.org; 437-5210

The New Hampshire Philharmonic collaborates with Opera New Hampshire in an orchestral version of Georges Bizet’s grand opera “Carmen” at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at Stockbridge Theatre at Pinkerton Academy in Derry.

“‘Carmen’” is one of those pieces — like the “Messiah” — in which each movement practically is an audience favorite,” said Mark Latham, music director for the Philharmonic. “Bizet’s greatest hits are found all in one work … This is mainly the case because of the great tunes that he wrote for this opera.”

The story is set in Southern Spain and follows the downfall of Don José, a naïve soldier who is seduced by the fiery gypsy Carmen. José abandons his childhood sweetheart and deserts from his military duties, but ultimately loses Carmen’s love to the glamorous toreador Escamillo, after which José kills her in a jealous rage, Opera NH said in a description of “Carmen.”

“This classic story (with) depictions of proletarian life, immorality and lawlessness, and the tragic death of the main character on stage, broke new ground in French opera and were highly controversial,” according to operanh.org.

But it’s also because the story is so compelling and the characters so committed to their passions and wide-ranging convictions.

“Carmen herself is not only fiercely passionate in her amorous nature, but fiercely independent, wedded not to the idea of betrothal to a man, but to her sense of freedom,” Latham said.

“Then there is Don José, who can be seen as weak and vacillating in his ardor, even though it is strong,” he said of the character who would rather kill Carmen than set her free. “The bullfighter, Escamillo, is the opposite, strong and confident in his abilities. And Micaëla, Don José’s girlfriend, is a sweet, honest village girl, pure of heart and intentions. In a sense she is just as tragic a figure as Carmen herself.”

Moving pieces

Projected images will help guide audiences through the story at the Stockbridge Theater.

“There will be a presentation running as audience members take their seats,” said Cathy Kaplan, executive director of the Philharmonic. “These images will include facts about Bizet, ‘Carmen,’ and the setting in and around Seville. During the performance, a single image for each act will be projected.”

That includes the town square adjacent to a cigarette factory in Seville, Spain; Lilas Pastia’s Inn, the smuggler’s hideout in the mountains and the area near the entrance to the bullfighting ring.

Latham said some of those elements underline the opera’s striking juxtapositions: the village versus the city; the free life of the smuggler versus the constricted life of the soldier; the idea of free love versus marriage; the idea of duty versus freedom; and the concept of destiny versus choice.

“The opera seamlessly investigates all of these in the context of a grand story, and both singers and instruments, and the melodies and harmonies all mix to carry the story on and to create the masterpiece it is,” he said.

The production draws together about 80 performers, including eight soloists via Opera NH: Angela Jajko (Carmen); Ethan Bremner (Don Jose); Ron Williams (Escamillo); Sol Kim Bentley (Micaela); Matthew Wight (Zuniga/Dancaire); Matthew Corcoran (Remandado/Morales); Margaret Felice (Frasquita) and Mauri Tetreault (Mercédès.)

“At least half of the artists for the particular program come from the Boston area,” said Faith Wilson, who is in her eighth year as executive director of Opera NH.

In addition, “Carmen” features 51 members of the Philharmonic (led by Latham), 20 members of the New Hampshire Master Chorale (led by Dan Perkins) and a narrator (Gary Miller, chairman of the board of directors for the Philharmonic.)

Previous collaborations between the Philharmonic and the Opera NH include “Camina Burana” at Pinkerton Academy in Derry in 2016 and “Night at the Opera” at the Palace Theatre in Manchester, Kaplan said.

“We started to think outside the box,” Wilson said. “We knew that friends in the arts were also struggling three to five years ago. There was a decline in grants and we were all looking for opportunities, so we put it on the table. ‘How can we help ourselves and our arts friends in the same situation?”

An event that drew together members of the opera and orchestral communities sparked an answer.

“A lightbulb went off,” Wilson said, who said the idea was not to merge art groups but to foster collaborations. “It helps everyone out and makes folks look at organizations in a different light — that we’re all in it together, not competing, but all trying to accomplish the same thing.”

It takes a lot of juggling to coordinate all the pieces of a multi-faceted production, the third joint venture between the organizations.

“Perhaps the most challenging aspect of this particular program has been finding common time and convenient locations for partial and full-rehearsals,” Kaplan said. “While the NH Philharmonic rehearses regularly each Sunday evening at Pinkerton Academy ..., the eight singers who will perform the lead roles will rehearse in Boston before joining the orchestra and chorus in Derry. Members of the NH Master Chorale have met on their own to rehearse and will also join us ... for a full run-through. On Friday, we will hold a dress rehearsal in preparation for the weekend’s events.”

It helps that “Carmen” is such a staple of the opera world.

“It’s a lot of work but these folks are trained, seasoned performers ...,” Wilson said. “Most have ‘Carmen’ on their portfolio. They are familiar with the scores. There is a lot of self practice and self rehearsal.”

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