Philharmonic gets creative with ‘Carmen’ set design

February 1, 2019

Fort Wayne Philharmonic is learning from a previous performance and getting creative with set design for its presentation of Georges Bizet’s “Carmen” on Saturday as part of the orchestra’s Masterworks Series.

When music director Andrew Constantine conducted the Philharmonic’s performance of Giacomo Puccini’s “Tosca” in 2017, the vocal soloists were at the front of the stage, 10 to 20 feet behind his back. He says it was a challenge as the singers belted out the songs into the audience but he and the orchestra couldn’t hear them.

“Scary. Very scary,” he says. “The fact it came off very well is a testament to everybody’s skill and hard work.”

For “Carmen,” Constantine will be able to see everything on stage thanks to staging and a special set : something the Philharmonic doesn’t often employ.

The conductor will be positioned with the string section on a piece of the Embassy stage that will be lowered slightly into the pit. The rest of the Philharmonic will be on the main stage level and the singers will be on a catwalk-like platform, improving sight-lines for everyone involved.

The performance is semi-staged, meaning it isn’t fully acted out. It features mezzo-soprano Allegra De Vita in the title role. Other vocalists are tenor Alex Richardson, baritone Timothy Mix and Michelle Areyzaga. The Fort Wayne Philharmonic Chorus and Fort Wayne Children’s Choir will also perform.

The backdrop will feature original visuals created by Kevan Loney. The projection may include rehearsal images or some that reinforce the setting of the opera.

All together, the music and visuals will bring to life what Constantine calls “the most colorful and beguiling opera ever written.”

Set in Spain, the opera is a story of a soldier who becomes infatuated with a gypsy named Carmen. Carmen wants freedom in her life, instead of being trapped in a man’s world. Don José eventually stalks and kills her after she rejects him for another man.

When it debuted in 1875, “Carmen” was controversial for its depiction of working class life and the tragic death of its title character.

Constantine says the opera’s social messages are as relevant today as they were when it debuted. But perhaps more than anything, it is Bizet’s music that made the opera one of the most popular in the world.

Though the public might not think they know music from “Carmen,” it includes pieces like “Habanera” and “Toreador Song” which have made their way into every corner of popular culture.

“From the very first orchestral entrance : right at the beginning : half the audience will be thinking, ‘Oh yeah, I used to have that as a ringtone on my phone,’” Constantine says.

But getting people to come out for something they think is unfamiliar may be a hurdle. Simply the fact it’s an opera could be a hurdle in itself.

Constantine admits the challenge, but believes the experience will appeal to the Philharmonic’s regular audience and other music lovers, too.

“I think that if people out there want to dip their toe into the great world of opera, there is no better work for them to come and experience than ‘Carmen,’” he says. “It’s nonstop beautiful music and great singing and questioning drama.”

: Corey McMaken, The Journal Gazette

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