Rounding out to a big finish: Nashville Opera Presents ‘Carmen’

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by Byron Simpson
Staff Writer

Nashville Opera caps its provocative 2004-2005 season with April’s staging of Bizet’s “Carmen,” one of the world’s most popular operas.

Tennessee’s largest opera company has adopted a winning formula of mixing groundbreaking smaller works with reliable crowd-pleasers. November’s offering, Poulenc’s “The Lighthouse,” drew listeners into the tale of Scottish lighthouse keepers facing mysterious ghosts with impressive deftness. The singers, and especially the orchestra, showed considerable comfort with the work’s eerie surrealism and tonal ambiguity.

And most recently, Der Fledermaus’ audiences were treated to a broad comic treatment of the Strauss operetta that more resembled the WB than La Scala – with strong physical comedy, allusions to the Grand Ole Opry, and savvy pop culture nods. Kudos to John Hoomes, the company’s artistic director for his mission of endearing and educating, while still stretching the artistic sensibilities of the Nashville audiences.

Bizet’s masterpiece boasts some of the most recognizable melodies to come out of opera, and the story features those irresistible qualities of passion, murder and transformation that drive most prime-time dramas and reality make-over shows.

In “Carmen,” Don Jose, a disciplined young soldier falls instantly in love with a high-spirited gypsy named Carmen. He’s attracted to the fact that she’s her own person, then becomes frustrated when he cannot possess and control her. She resists. He descends. She elevates. He obsesses. She rejects. Love, bitterness and a homicide ensue.

While the themes are classic opera, the story telling is more subtle and the characters more fully developed than in most grand works.

The track record of excellence established by Nashville Opera and John Hoomes supports the expectation that Carmen will be an impressive telling.

Nashvillians actually have “Carmen” to thank for a bit of its history. According to “Nashville’s Mother Church: The History of the Ryman Auditorium,” by William U. Eiland, the stage at the Grand Ole Opry shrine was originally built in 1901 to support a touring production of “Carmen” from New York Metropolitan Opera. The unbroken circle continues.

“Carmen” will be presented for two nights only – Thursday, April 7, beginning at 7:00 p.m. and Saturday, April 10, beginning at 8:00 p.m. , both in the James K. Polk Theater of TPAC. “Carmen” will be sung in French with English supertitles. The Nashville Symphony will perform under the direction of Mark Flint, artistic and general director of the Augusta Opera Association and principal conductor for L’Opera de Montreal. Visit www.nashvilleopera.org for more information.