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Concert 'Carmen' sets Bizet fans abuzz
(China Daily)
Updated: 2004-05-19 08:46

Bizet's "Carmen," a compelling musical drama of passion, betrayal and revenge, is always welcomed by opera fans.

However, for a long time, Beijingers have only been offered the Chinese version of the opera with Carmen and Don Jose singing in Chinese.

This time the China Philharmonic Orchestra and Shanghai Opera Chorus will present a concert version of "Carmen," featuring an international cast singing in the original French.

The concerts, to be held in the Poly Theatre from May 21 to 24, will appeal both to opera fans and classical music lovers generally. As Yu Long, conductor as well as director of the performance, put it, this will be "a novel, interesting and rarely-seen modern version" of the famous work.

The rehearsal bore out his words. The orchestra, the chorus and the singers all worked in a very relaxed way, naturally getting into the story, which is set in Seville, and into their roles.

Yu, artistic director and chief conductor of the China Philharmonic Orchestra, stepped off the podium from time to time to tell Carmen, Don Jose, Micaela or Escamillo how to perform in a scene.

To offer local audiences different interpretations of the roles, Yu will use two casts - A and B - for the leading roles.

Mezzo-soprano Kristin Chavez from the United States, who plays Carmen in cast A, plays a very seductive heroine. With her dark and beautifully curled long hair, good-looking face and perfect figure, Chavez takes over the stage as the passionate and sexy Gypsy woman who works in a Seville cigarette factory.

She walks out from the chorus at the back and through the orchestra while singing and performs an alluring dance in front of the orchestra, flirting with the men in the choir, the violin players and even Yu, the conductor, almost pushing him off the podium.

Her impassioned performance won applause from the chorus and orchestra during the rehearsal.

"It's an interesting experience to perform Carmen in this way with China Philharmonic Orchestra, although I have performed the role a number of times," Chavez told China Daily.

"What's more, Carmen is such a charming and alluring role that no matter how many times I have performed it, I am excited to sing her passionate arias.

"The conductor is creative and open-minded. Opera in its classic form is losing audiences today, and this modern concert version is a great idea to bring new audiences in."

Yu said that the chorus will not stand at the back all on the same level, but will be arranged like the peaks and valleys of a mountain. Some of the children's choir will sing among the audience and then walk onto the stage. There is also a simple but unique stage set and effective use of lighting.

The singers cast as Carmen and Micaela all brought with them very formal gowns, but when they arrived, Yu told them he wants them to dress casually in something like jeans, shirts or Chinese qipao, or whatever else might suit their fancy.

In the end, Chavez settled on a black-and-red dress which she bought here, while Lea Woods Friedman, who sings Micaela in cast A, bought a simple green dress in a local market.

Friedman proudly showed off her purchase, saying the pedlar had asked for 500 yuan (US$60) but that she paid much less than that.

"Micaela is a very sweet country girl and I think the green dress suits her innocence, while contrasting with Carmen in red and black," she said.

About her debut with China Philharmonic Orchestra as Micaela in "Carmen," Friedman said: "It is amazing to perform with the orchestra; they truly understand 'Carmen.' Both the orchestra and Yu are passionate about the music. And the Shanghai Opera Chorus sings beautifully."

She also highly values Yu's conducting: "We collaborate very well. He is expressive and flexible. He knows how to communicate with the singers."

The soprano also revealed during a break in rehearsal that she loves Puccini most.

"Puccini has wonderful melodies and there is passion and emotion in his music which is very appealing to audiences," she said.

In cast A, the New York-based Chinese tenor Zhang Jianyi is Don Jose.

Don Jose is a role ideally suited to Zhang's vocal characteristics and dramatic temperament. From his opening phrases, Zhang's voice is well placed and in top form. He tosses off his arias and duets with an ease and agility rarely found in tenors today.

Cast B features mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Batton from the United States as Carmen, Chinese soprano Zheng Yong as Micaela and tenor Warren Mok as Don Jose.

Chavez is a very dramatic Carmen while Batton has a gorgeous voice. And Mok is another popular Chinese tenor who performs internationally.

He has sung Don Jose many times around the world.

Mok is the one who recommended Elizabeth Batton to sing in the Beijing Music Festival last year and for "Carmen." He has sung with her in the Macao International Music Festival and the Opera Hong Kong Gala Concert.

"She has a beautiful mezzo voice and looks wonderful on stage. She is a nice colleague to collaborate with," he said.

Chinese baritone Liao Changyong sings Escamillo in both casts. His interpretation of the "Toreador Song" is nothing less than inspiring.

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