Don’t miss Carmen Saturday at Grand Junction High School |

Don’t miss Carmen Saturday at Grand Junction High School

Jeremy Herigstad
Cultural Confidential Contributor

When the Grand Junction Symphony takes the stage Saturday, April 12, for their final concert of the 2013-2014 season, it will do so presenting one of the most famous operas of all-time: Bizet’s Carmen. Although Carmen has been quite popular for more than 100 years, it was not without its detractors when it first premiered in France in 1875. In fact, the composer Georges Bizet never got to see it receive its just rewards as he died suddenly during the initial performance run.

So, what led to the initial lack of enthusiasm when Carmen, the opera, premiered? Opera up to the mid 1800s revolved around kings, queens, tsars, tsarinas, dukes, duchesses, princes, princesses and the royal court in general. Mythology and characters from the Greek and Roman myths were also part of the standard opera repertoire. On the other hand, Georges Bizet in his opera Carmen went against this tradition and introduced “ordinary” people who worked in factories and anti-heroes who smuggled across state borders. This was not the norm for operas at the time.

And the story goes that there were many back-stage tensions during the production of Carmen prior to its premiere. Camille Du Locle, the general director of the Théâtre de l’Opéra-Comique at the time of Carmen, the opera’s premiere production, “had a co-director De Leuven, who hated the piece and resigned over Du Locle’s insistence in producing the opera, complaining that he wouldn’t allow the murder of a woman on ‘his’ stage.” Carmen premiered at the Théâtre de l’Opéra Comique on March 3, 1875. Georges Bizet, the opera’s composer, passed away on June 3, 1875 — exactly three months later. Some historians have said that his death was precipitated by his disappointment with the opera’s reception by the audience and critics.

So, how and why did Carmen become the darling of the opera world? Perhaps, it has become so famous because of a successfully orchestrated series of promotions. In 1915, Carmen — a silent film — was produced in Hollywood and although the film’s original promotional materials claim it is based on a novella that Bizet based his opera on, it is actually the exact same story as in Carmen, the opera. In 1943, Carmen Jones, a Broadway musical with music by Georges Bizet and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, was staged. It takes place during World War II with a cast of African-Americans. Most of Bizet’s music is unchanged in the musical. However, Hammerstein adapted it to the nuance of Broadway performers, who were not black opera singers. In 1949, Carmen was made into a full length ballet by “Les Ballets de Paris.” The music is from the opera by Georges Bizet, adapted and orchestrated for the ballet. In 1954, Carmen Jones, the Broadway musical, was adapted into a film. Once again, it featured an African American cast. So, Carmen the opera, adapted into musicals, ballets and films, has created a noise. But, perhaps the most curious contributor to the success of Carmen the opera is its children’s chorus. Many children’s choirs in cities around the world have participated in full-scale productions produced by major opera companies in their city.

If children’s choirs are the success of Carmen, then an evening with the Grand Junction Symphony joined by the Grand Valley Children’s Choir is sure to delight. Although their appearance the evening of Saturday, April 12, will be limited, it is safe to say that a good portion of the audience will be the parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles of those future stage performers.

The concert begins at 7:30 p.m. in the Grand Junction High School Auditorium and great seats are still available. Along with the Grand Valley Children’s Choir, the stage will also be graced by the Grand Junction Symphony Chorus, a group of voices made up of the Colorado Mesa University Chamber Choir, the Schumann Singers and the Western Colorado Chorale (not to mention three unbelievably talented opera singers performing the lead roles of Carmen, Don Jose and Escamillo).

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