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"Carmen" (1875), An Opera in Four Acts by Georges Bizet (1838-1875) - Playing at the Kennedy Center Sep 19 - Oct 3, 2015


DonRocks
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Washington National Opera: Carmen, Sat, Sep 19, 2015 - Sat, Oct 3, 2015

If I were recommending a "first opera" to someone, it would be Carmen, The Barber of Seville, or La Traviata. Yes, they're warhorses that have been beaten to death, but for good reason - you feel like you're listening to a "Greatest Hits" album.

For those who can't (or won't) sit through an opera, I highly recommend the 1984 film of it starring Julia Migenes-Johnson.

I've always said that you can divide people into three categories of being opera lovers:

1) If you can name 1 opera Georges Bizet wrote, you're a novice

2) If you can name 2 operas Georges Bizet wrote, you're an intermediate

3) If you can name 3 operas Georges Bizet wrote, you're an expert.

An over-simplification to be sure, but (assuming the knowledge came naturally) it's also probably pretty true (I actually saw "The Pearl Fishers" in Baltimore (I think it was Baltimore), long ago) - my supervisor for nearly 25 years was an opera fanatic, and we used to go 2-3 times a year for many years, so I got plenty of exposure before finally concluding that I simply don't love opera - I *respect* it; I just don't love it: They can be so brutally long.

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Washington National Opera: Carmen, Sat, Sep 19, 2015 - Sat, Oct 3, 2015

If I were recommending a "first opera" to someone, it would be CarmenThe Barber of Seville, or La Traviata. Yes, they're warhorses that have been beaten to death, but for good reason - you feel like you're listening to a "Greatest Hits" album.

For those who can't (or won't) sit through an opera, I highly recommend the 1984 film of it starring Julia Migenes-Johnson.

I always recommend La Boheme as a first opera. Four 22 minute acts. Gorgeous music. Sad story. When I was a student in Vienna, we went to the opera every night for almost 9 months. I have seen the "warhorses" so many times, that I'm selective now when I go to the opera. I gave up on the Washington Opera several years ago, mainly because of inconsistent productions and exorbitant prices for seats. I hate spending $185 for a crappy production of a favorite opera. Now, I heartily recommend buying opera on disc. Lucia di Lammermoor without the two 45 minute intermissions only runs 2 hours - and it flies by. Amazon has an enormous amount of great productions available at reasonable prices- usually under $30. Don- I remember not liking that Carmen, mainly because of Domingo and the fact that it was cut to death. I have said before that my favorite film of an opera is the Don Giovanni by Joseph Losey; add to that the amazing Rigoletto that starred Pavarotti filmed by Jean Pierre Ponnelle. I recently picked up a breathtaking Ariadne auf Naxos starring Debra Voigt from the Met. I love the music of Carmen, but, like Aida, it takes truly great singers to pull it off.

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I always recommend La Boheme as a first opera. Four 22 minute acts. Gorgeous music. Sad story. When I was a student in Vienna, we went to the opera every night for almost 9 months. I have seen the "warhorses" so many times, that I'm selective now when I go to the opera. I gave up on the Washington Opera several years ago, mainly because of inconsistent productions and exorbitant prices for seats. I hate spending $185 for a crappy production of a favorite opera. Now, I heartily recommend buying opera on discLucia di Lammermoor without the two 45 minute intermissions only runs 2 hours - and it flies by. Amazon has an enormous amount of great productions available at reasonable prices- usually under $30. Don- I remember not liking that Carmen, mainly because of Domingo and the fact that it was cut to death. I have said before that my favorite film of an opera is the Don Giovanni by Joseph Losey; add to that the amazing Rigoletto that starred Pavarotti filmed by Jean Pierre Ponnelle. I recently picked up a breathtaking Ariadne auf Naxos starring Debra Voigt from the Met. I love the music of Carmen, but, like Aida, it takes truly great singers to pull it off.

Mark, what on earth is wrong with Domingo? I can see you thinking he's "overrated" (he is, after all, the most famous tenor in the world now that Pavarotti has left us), but he is, nevertheless, a *fine* tenor. What am I missing?

I saw him in Tosca at the Kennedy Center, btw - that's another good "first opera" (I do agree with La Bohème, btw).

I'd like to borrow your discs, but come to think of it, I only use Chromebook now so they won't do me any good.

What do you think of my silly little litmus test? Bizet has one mega-famous opera; a second opera known mainly to opera hounds; and a few others that are obscure (as I type, I couldn't name a third).

I never realized Carmen premiered in Bizet's final year until just now.

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You know he's singing baritone now.

Well, when I saw him, he was a tenor - that should give you a pretty good idea of how long it's been. :lol:

There was the full Ring sometime around 1990, and back then, it was considered a *big deal* and basically a "once in a lifetime opportunity" - things have changed, however, and I believe it has come once more since then (twice more?) Which production are you referring to? This was, if I recall, from Berlin, and I don't even know if there were any American productions in existence 25 years ago ("storing" an opera production is extremely costly (pause for a moment and think about all that must be involved), which is one reason you keep seeing the most famous operas over and over again - this is high-dollar entertainment, and ticket sales don't come close to paying for it - it must be subsidized, either through rich patrons or by the government (which is how Vienna puts on some insane amount of productions each year)).

I don't see Domingo as Wagnerian, but I'm really no expert. I may talk a good game, but don't let me fool you - I'm squarely in the "advanced-intermediate" category in terms of operatic knowledge. I do think operas on discs are a good option for me right now; I just can't sit still for 3-4 hours.

Matt's music school is putting on The Barber of Seville this week - he'll be seeing his very first opera in a few days. I was going to go last weekend, but he's "at that age" where I think his newfound freedom is more important than seeing his pop. :)

This is the duet Mark referred to, and it *is* beautiful. From Bizet's "other" opera, "The Pearl Fishers," Au Fond du Temple Saint:

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I was at the matinee performance of Carmen yesterday. (I had a box seat, which cost a whole lot more than $185.) I'm a fairly serious opera lover, but this was my first Carmen. The production--sets, costumes, lighting--was gorgeous, as is usual nowadays for the Washington Opera but didn't use to be; the orchestra sounded like a million bucks, which is also usual these days; one of the singers, the soprano who sang the Micaela role, was superb; the other principal singers were not. The Carmen had a kind of puny voice and terrible breath control; over and over she interrupted a vocal line to gasp for air. The Don José's singing was quite ragged in spots, especially in the early scenes; that could just be one of the perils of matinees. And the singer impersonating Escamillo, the toreador, couldn't produce the notes at the bottom of his part without croaking them. But it was certainly a pleasant way to spend three hours. Wonderful choreography and chorus, both adult and child.

I think La Bohème is an ideal introduction to opera, and I wish it had been my own. The first few operas I saw, starting in high school, were Ariadne auf Naxos, The Ballad of Baby Doe, and Treemonisha. These are among the last works I would suggest as introductions to the opera. Then, when I was 23, I was lucky enough to be living in Washington, in 1976, when all kinds of opera came to the Kennedy Center for the bicentennial. Early that year, I attended a performance of Cosí¬ fan tutte by the Berliner Staatsoper and was hooked for life. That summer, I got to see La Bohème done by La Scala, which had the extremely fine feature of a good-looking Rodolfo, the then-movie-star-handsome José Carreras, who could sing too. (You generally get only the latter, at best.) The other night MPT ran a performance from the Met with Vittorio Grigolo as Rodolfo, and he's pretty good-looking himself. A few years ago I saw him in a Washington Opera performance of Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia, a gorgeous opera I adore, and he did the whole last act naked to the waist, which was not hard on the eyes. (Imagine Pavarotti!) He kind of ridiculously took his curtain call still bare-chested.

Mozart, Rossini, Verdi, Puccini: I think their most popular operas are all good candidates for first exposure to opera. Carmen is a pretty good choice, but suffers somewhat, in my view, from being in French, which is less easy to love than Italian as a sung language. The score is certainly a lot of fun.

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In the spring of 1987 I saw a production of Carmen in Boston, by the Metropolitan Opera, I think.  It was my graduation present to myself, but the timing was awful: I had two final exams that day, after which I had to pack for the trip home.  My fiancee rolled in from DC just in time for a quick dinner before the show.  We were both exhausted and probably that's why we didn't enjoy it.  What I remember of the production is that they took full bows after each act, which seemed preposterous and vain beyond belief; that each intermission was 20 minutes long; and that in act 1, the changing of the guard scene, there was no boys' chorus to sing the parts of the urchins.  But rather than skip it, the performers promenaded around the stage while the orchestra played.  It was dull, dull, dull.  We left after Act 3, which is also dull, dull, dull, no matter who's performing it.  Nonetheless, acts 1 and 2 contain some of my favorite music ever.

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In the spring of 1987 I saw a production of Carmen in Boston, by the Metropolitan Opera, I think.  It was my graduation present to myself, but the timing was awful: I had two final exams that day, after which I had to pack for the trip home.  My fiancee rolled in from DC just in time for a quick dinner before the show.  We were both exhausted and probably that's why we didn't enjoy it.  What I remember of the production is that they took full bows after each act, which seemed preposterous and vain beyond belief; that each intermission was 20 minutes long; and that in act 1, the changing of the guard scene, there was no boys' chorus to sing the parts of the urchins.  But rather than skip it, the performers promenaded around the stage while the orchestra played.  It was dull, dull, dull.  We left after Act 3, which is also dull, dull, dull, no matter who's performing it.  Nonetheless, acts 1 and 2 contain some of my favorite music ever.

The first opera I ever saw as an adult was at the Met. My friends and I went out for dinner, drank wine, and then went to see Otello. I slept throughout the entire performance. I saw Otello several years ago when the Bolshoi was at KenCen. It left me completely cold.

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Matt's music school is putting on The Barber of Seville this week - he'll be seeing his very first opera in a few days. I was going to go last weekend, but he's "at that age" where I think his newfound freedom is more important than seeing his pop. :)

They have a podcast of the opera (you have to find it and click on it), and everyone who's reading this should take five minutes and listen to the Overture (I guarantee you'll recognize the music, even if you think you're unfamiliar with the opera - there's sort of an "overture to the overture" so give it until 2:20 before deciding you don't recognize it).

And now they're staging "Dead Man Walking."  :o

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