Opera might not be a current popular culture staple, but the movies, television, commercials, and radio hits that make up the “pop culture” cannon nod to the classical art form more often than you might think. Take, for example, Georges Bizet’s 19th century operatic “blockbuster,” Carmen, with more hits than most any other opera.
Toledoans can experience the magic of this endearingly popular performance when director Jeffrey Buchman’s version is presented by the Toledo Opera on Friday, February 8 and Sunday, February 10.
Arriving at the aria
You might recognize the name. You might know the story of the fiery gypsy and her love affairs. Even if you don’t, it’s almost certain you’ll recognize the music. The arias and melodies of Carmen have been adapted (and, sometimes, spoofed) in everything from Beyoncé’s appearance in the 2001 film, Carmen: A Hip Hopera, to The Muppets and cartoons like Hey Arnold! and Tom & Jerry. Alex Lawrence, who stars as the confident matador, Escamillo, remembers Samuel Ramey on Sesame Street singing an ode to the letter “L” to the tune of Escamillo’s “Toreador Song.”
“There have been so many references to Carmen because of the great music and content,” says Lawrence. “not just because it’s tuneful and melodic, but because it speaks to the human condition…. jealousy, betrayal, lust, living freely, possessiveness. I think Carmen has remained so successful and popular because it’s relatable; the characters inspire us to think about our own lives,” Lawrence relates.
As an up-and-coming baritone who has spent much of his early career singing many of Carmen’s smaller roles, Lawrence relishes his debut in the role of Escamillo. “Carmen is an opera I’ve spent a lot of time with— I know the whole score from front to back— Escamillo, who has one of the most famous arias (the “Toreador Song”) in all of the operatic literature. Bass and baritone singers aren’t usually the stars of the show, but Carmen offers this rare, shining moment (for a bass singer) to take the stage and sing an aria that everyone loves. I never expected to sing as Escamillo. When this opportunity came along I was very much ready.”
Lawrence says he has enjoyed digging into the “deeper shades” of Escamillo, who has a fiery romance with Carmen.” As a matador, Escamillo is bold and often seen as arrogant but,” Lawrence interprets, “he has a confidence that informs everything he does. Every gesture, every word, is informed by this belief that he is world class at what he does. It has nothing to do with a superficial projection of confidence— it’s authentic. You have to deliver that authenticity, which is a fun task for the actor.”
Returning to the role
Soprano Christina Pier is intimately familiar with her role, with her third time performing as the peasant girl Micaëla, set to wed Don José, when he leaves her for Carmen. “Micaëla is just so pure and so good. She has fortitude and faith. I think there’s a little bit of her in all of us,” says Pier. “Her love for Don Jose is very honest but, at the same time, she’s just very true to her intentions and convictions.”
Pier’s performance as Micaëla comes with a depth for the role, which is often seen as naive and innocent. “I think of Micaela as someone who has never been hurt. There’s nothing jaded about her. She’s hopeful and optimistic and always tries to do the right thing, even at the end when she realizes Jose has fallen for Carmen. Even though Carmen wins out in the end, I think what Micaëla and Jose have is very real and genuine.”
The Toledo Opera presents ‘Carmen’ 7:30pm
on Friday, February 8 and 2pm on Sunday, February 10 Valentine Theatre
Tickets from $50-$100 | 419-255-SING | toledoopera.org