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Photo courtesy of Calgary Opera // Edited by Megan Koch

Carmen: A relatable opera experience

By Aymen Sherwani, Ramiro Bustamante Torres, November 24 2022

When opera is brought up in conversation, usually one envisions images of the oh-so-opulent Palais Garnier swarmed with women in long opera gloves accompanied by men in black tie attire — a vision of a forgotten time which the modern world has mostly moved past. It’s unfortunate that many refer to opera as a dying art form — “for old people,” as many phrase it — but it doesn’t have to be. Last weekend, Calgary Opera invited the Gauntlet to their version of a timeless classic, Carmen, and proved to us that the melodrama of opera is the refined older sister of today’s messy TikTok celebrity gossip. 

Carmen, the girl-boss city girl of this performance, is the talk of Seville — men want her, and women hate her. She is what I would like to call the operatic version of Kim Kardashian. And her Kanye West? None other than Don José — the jealous-yet-unremarkable corporal who falls for her charms, despite already having a woman, and then getting upset when Carmen gets tired of him being an overprotective scrub that doesn’t let her go off on her own. Like West, Don José knew what he was getting into when he chose to pursue Carmen, who refers to herself as a free bird through the opera — here, he is the manifestation of every other guy who views women as trophies to acquire, a feat to accomplish, rather than actual people. He saw a free bird and attempted to clip its wings and cage it in his own pursuit of his own journey of exploration.

Then enters Escamillo — the rakish toreador who you just know will treat you right — straight out of an episode of Netflix’s Bridgerton who sweeps Carmen off her feet when things are at her lowest with Don José. He is our story’s Pete Davidson — Don José’s “Skete” — the rival lover, who he cannot fathom being better than him. 

This all being said —- after watching Carmen, it’s hard to believe when anyone says that opera is an unrelatable art form when it is quite literally the retelling of a tale as old as time in the most evocative and passionate medium imaginable. Bizet’s Carmen opera music broke off from the norm of its contemporaries and as a staple opera, this was an excellent way to start the season. With its diverse themes and from exciting to more mundane scenes, there was a bit for everyone in the audience to enjoy. 

The singers in the main roles were strong choices for their ability and how they were able to capture the audience’s attention. Playing the titular Carmen, Rihab Chaieb displayed precise control of her voice managing to perform not only the arias but her role outside of her lines. Chaieb had a way of keeping the audience’s attention on her as Carmen would. As her fourth time reprising the role, you can tell Chaieb has had experience with Carmen and brought out her character effortlessly. 

David Pomeroy played Don José and excelled in the part. Pomeroy had a strong voice and the jealousy came through in a natural way during his arias when involving Carmen. The cast for the characters Escamillo (Nmon Ford), Micaëla (Tracy Cantin), Frasquita (Nicole Leung) and Mercédès (Justine Ledoux) had also shown their impressive skills, especially Ford’s voice which balanced really well with his duet/duel with Pomeroy’s Don José. 

The Cantare Children’s Choir was led by Catherine Glaser-Clime and involved 11 children who joined the troupe on stage and sang two chorus parts which they did a wonderful job at. In the orchestra pit, the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra was conducted by Mark Morash, which added to the already very talented cast.

Overall, the staging and the costuming were excellent; the use of the Jubille auditorium was effective. The audience received the opera well, and the choice of an opera comique allowed the atmosphere not to be so serious and made the performance more approachable for the audience. Between the tantric romance and moments of comedy, this was an excellent choice to start the season by bridging the old Western classical tradition of opera with still relatable emotions from Bizet’s Carmen that audiences now can say they have heard of someone also falling for a “free bird” at one point in their lives and the drama that ensued. 

If you want to check out Calgary Opera’s other shows for their 50th Anniversary 2022 – 2023 season, visit their website here.

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