Wednesday, June 5, 2019

How Rigoletto’s ‘La Donna e Mobile’ Has Dominated Pop Culture


Doritos used "La donna è mobile” in a Super Bowl commercial with a grandma and a baby in a slingshot.
By David Salazar, article originally from OperaWire

It is arguably the most misogynistic piece in all of opera, its text essentially calls women “fickle” and “small-minded.” And yet everyone revels in its sumptuous melody that has become opera’s most iconic number.

When Verdi first composed "La donna è mobile” for his Rigoletto, which premiered on March 11, 1851, he hid it for tenor Raffaele Mirate because he knew that if he did, the tenor would be humming it out in the open, ruining the surprise before the opera’s premiere. It isn’t hard to see why. With its bright tune and dynamic rhythmic figures, the melody just puts a smile on your face. Pleasure is quite the apt word for this aria.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Praise for Carmen

Seattle Opera presents Carmen. Sunny Martini photo
"All in all, it’s Seattle Opera’s most thoroughly successful show since last summer’s dazzling Porgy and Bess, and I encourage you not to miss it." - Seattle Magazine 

"...in Ginger Costa-Jackson and Frederick Ballentine, Seattle Opera has the most real, most convincing Carmen and Jose I’ve ever seen. (Zanda Švēde and Adam Smith takes the roles in the production’s alternate cast, and Ballentine, unbelievably, stepped in for ailing tenor Scott Quinn on just a few days’ notice.) - Seattle Magazine  

Carmen offers "three acts of exquisite earworms and engaging action scattered with visual pop-culture references, followed by a final act — still beautifully sung — that is horrifyingly effective." - The Seattle Times

"Two performers who got it just right were Madison Leonard and Sarah Coit. As Frasquita and Mercédès they were a perfect pair, musically well-blended yet able to shine in their solo moments. They sang well, moved fluently, looked terrific, and had just the right world-weary yet upbeat attitude." - Opera Wire

Ginger Costa-Jackson (Carmen)'s performance dates include May 4, 8, 12, 17, & 19. Sunny Martini photo
"Ginger Costa-Jackson's Carmen rivets the attention whenever she is on stage. She looks the part and acts it like a second skin – a come-hither, sultry, sensuous siren. Every movement she makes: hips, shoulders, even the way she regards people from under her eyelids, signal who she is and that she’s beautiful ... And Costa-Jackson can sing, superbly." Bachtrack 

"Thanks to the sets and costumes designed by Gary McCann and the lighting design by Paul Hackenmueller, this production is beautiful and exciting from start to finish. The 1950s aesthetic is used to a dazzling effect and makes for some clever moments with girl group choreography (courtesy of Associate Director and Choreographer Seth Hoff) and motorcycle entrances. The orchestra, under the baton of Giacomo Sagripanti is lively and dynamic. While all of these fantastic elements would be enough for a successful production of Carmen, they play devastatingly against the tragic moments of the opera. In particular, the fantastical parade in honor of the bullfighters is followed immediately by the very unflashy and incredibly disturbing confrontation between Carmen and Don José." - Drama in the Hood 

"And in Seattle Opera's current staging (Carmen) is also highly entertaining. Director Paul Curran has wisely focused on the comic aspects of the opera. The production is bright, colorful, at times even boisterous. It is a lot of fun. If there’s a children’s chorus in this opera - and there is - then it will be an adorable bunch of scamps singing and marching around the stage." -Andy Nicastro 

"Tenor Frederick Ballentine deserves all kinds of kudos for his performance. He has sung the role previously and has a beautiful, expressive voice, but this new production is extremely active, and José’s role runs the gamut from quiet bystander to smoldering, passionate lover and self-doubter, to jealous, violent, out-of-control killer. Ballentine, who might have had one run through of the staging earlier, nailed the role both vocally and as an actor." Bachtrack 

Zanda Švēde (Carmen)'s performance dates include May 5, 11, 15, & 18. Pictured here with Rodion Pogossov as Escamillo. Sunny Martini photo
"The performers, as to be expected in opera, where world-class is a descriptor to which every singer has to live up, are chin-to-the-ground good. Švēde, who was the lead on the day I saw 'Carmen,' almost vibrates in her intensity, her honeyed mezzo-soprano lithely moving back and forth between alluring and penetrative. In his Seattle debut, the opera’s director, Paul Curran, accentuates the intensity." - The UW Daily

"The extensive cast was incredibly well rehearsed and there just a – joy – emanating from the stage Saturday evening. When an audience demands several curtain calls, you know the performance was a hit in anyone’s book."- Eclectic Arts 

"It’s a gorgeous production, too. Gary McCann’s costumes and billboard-dominated set seem to place the action around 1950 and possibly in Cuba." - Seattle Magazine 

"The supporting cast was strong. Ryan Bede was a refreshingly capable Moralès, not just vocally, but as one of the only officers on stage that was competent at his job. Daniel Sumegi was a well-seasoned, slightly raspy Zuniga. John Marzano and Mark Diamond as Remendado and Dancäire were mischievous and sang a tight, witty quintet." - Opera Wire

"Rodion Pogossov’s Escamillo is energetic and lively. His clowning around during the “Toreador Song” - I believe he steals a move or two from Chuck Berry - fit in nicely with the production's light-hearted tone."   -Andy Nicastro 

Vanessa Goikoetxea (Micaëla). Philip Newton photo
"As Don José’s commanding officer and a rejected suitor of Carmen, bass-baritone Daniel Sumegi’s Zuniga channeled Alan Rickman with a mixture of chronic irritation and vague menace." - The Seattle Times

"The effective lighting of the sets, by Paul Hackenmueller, was well nuanced, such as the shadowy tavern corners with spotlights just on the action itself and the important characters." Bachtrack 

"Vanessa Goikoetxea deployed her strong soprano to reveal what’s really under Micaela’s timid exterior, and, after her Act 3 aria, earned the night’s loudest ovation for it." - Seattle Magazine  

Sarah Coit (Mercédès), Rodion Pogossov (Escamillo), and Madison Leonard (Frasquita). Philip Newton photo

"Don José’s intended fiancée, Micaëla, exists solely to counterbalance Carmen as a wholesome example of femininity; it’s a shallowly written role. But soprano Vanessa Goikoetxea (Emily Dorn on alternate nights) gives it such depth of character that, while we love to watch Carmen, in real life, we’d rather know Goikoetxea’s Micaëla." - The Seattle Times

"Stage director Paul Curran’s coherent concept succeeded seamlessly. Bringing Carmen into a different era lost none of the opera’s impact. Lastly, none of this would have been as successful without the music so ably played by Seattle Symphony members under Giacomo Sagripanti." Bachtrack 

Adam Smith (Don José) and Zanda Švēde (Carmen). Sunny Martini photo

Carmen plays May 4-19, 2019 at McCaw Hall. 
Tickets & info: seattleopera.org/carmen

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Women of Color decolonize the art of Carmen

Perri Rhoden, Sara Porkalob, Aramis O. Hamer, Michelle Habell-Pallán, and Naomi André. Sunny Martini photo

Prior to its May performances of Carmen, Seattle Opera held a panel discussion that amplified the perspectives of Women of Color, and unpacked themes of patriarchy and white supremacy in Western art and entertainment. 

By Gabrielle Kazuko Nomura Gainor

When Georges Bizet created Carmen in 1875, his home country, France, was obsessed with conquering the-so-called “Orient” (which, at the time, French people lumped the Middle East and Africa into, as well as Asia). Carmen herself is a sort of embodiment of these “faraway” cultures that France wanted to dominate. As a Roma womanan ethnic minority in white European societyCarmen brought an exotic element to the opera that French people could build fantasies upon. And like the “the Orient,” Carmen could not be fully tamed; in the end of the opera, she pays the ultimate price at the hands of Don José.

At a recent panel discussion called “Decolonizing Allure: Women of Color Artists in Conversation,” Dr. Naomi André said that this concept of “Orientalism” and the “Other” should encourage us to consider what’s at stake when we view these works.

“While [Carmen] is entertaining and wonderfuland I love Carmen, and I love that she’s bold and can say, ‘I’m interested in you. And now I’m not interested in you’remember that she’s punished at the end. She’s died at the end. It’s as if this voice is way too powerful and it has to be snuffed out.”

A scholar of Blackness in opera among other topics and a professor at the University of Michigan, Dr. André moderated “Decolonizing Allure,” which featured four additional speakers. For the Asian American woman writing this article at least, the evening offered radical and transcendent food-for-thought where many of us whose identities do not always feel centered in art forms like opera, ballet, and theater, were prioritized and honored.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

The Cinematic Lives of Carmen


From The Simpsons episode "Trip to the Opera."

By Julie Hubbert

A Seattle native who grew up attending Seattle Opera, Hubert is an associate professor of music history at the School of Music at the University of South Carolina where she also teaches in the Film and Media Studies Department. This fall, with the help of a NEH Fellowship, she will complete a book on music in films from the New Hollywood Era. 

What do Nietzsche and Bart Simpson have in common? It’s not a trick question. In fact, the answer reveals a hidden collaboration that has shaped the reception of this opera for over a century. The answer is Carmen. Nietzsche loved Carmen, although this admiration was certainly colored by misogyny and his growing contempt for Wagner. Bart Simpson’s connection to Carmen, however, is equally compelling and perhaps even more complex. In the second episode of the animated series, after Bart cheats on an IQ test, his mother Marge rewards him with a night at the opera. While there, Bart and his father Homer delightfully skewer opera conventions (a soprano with a healthy appetite does end the opera), but they also display an intimate knowledge of the music, especially when Bart sings the time-honored contrafactum of the Toreador’s Song: “Toreador, please don’t spit on the floor. Please use a cuspidor, that’s what it’s for.”

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Telling Carmen's Story

Seattle Opera interviewed our two Carmens: Zanda Švēde, left, and Ginger Costa-Jackson, right (photo by Suzanne Vinnik).
“As a musician I tell you that if you were to suppress adultery, fanaticism, crime, evil, the supernatural, there would no longer be the means for writing one note.”
― Georges Bizet

Carmen, Bizet’s heroine, attracts a variety of labels. Some view her as a powerful sexual being or even as a feminist. Others see her as a Roma stereotype, or as a woman who must be punished for daring to do what she wants in a patriarchal society. Seattle Opera sat down with our two Carmens: Ginger Costa-Jackson and Zanda Švēde. We learned more about what it's like to sing this role, and what to make of the work's famous and brutal ending in 2019. Neither of the two mezzo-sopranos would probably encounter Carmen in real life. (Carmen would likely be more into dancing the night away, singing karaoke, and being the life of the party, whereas the two singers are more quiet, homebody-types). But both Costa-Jackson and Švēde described a deep admiration for how Carmen inhabits her own body, how she is brave and un-apologetically herself, and how her ferocity resonates with audiences long after the curtain has come down.   

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Costuming Carmen

A toreador costume from Carmen. Trevor Giove photo
Seattle Opera sat down with Costume Director Susan Davis to learn more about the costumes for Carmen, which were envisioned by Gary McCann, Production Designer. Every Seattle Opera production takes approximately six weeks to costume from start to finish. This includes making garments from scratch, modifying or refurbishing existing costumes, and making any modifications that come up before opening night. This is the 10th time Seattle Opera has presented Carmen, and each time it looks a little different, Davis says. Bizet set his opera in the 1840s, and the fashions of this time period have an almost comical flair to modern sensibilities, Davis says. "But when you see an opera in a time period you recognize, it can offer audiences a closer connection to the story."


What’s your favorite thing about the costumes for this show?
It’s interesting to be doing this Carmen—it’s definitely new and different from what you saw on our stage last time, in 2011. Stage Director Paul Curran and his collaborator Gary McCann have set the work in the late 1950s. So onstage, you’ll see real clothes; vintage pieces (things you may recognize from your own closet if you were alive in the 1950s), and costumes used in Opera Philadelphia's production. As director of this work, Paul is thinking a lot about the haves, and the have-nots—from the factory workers struggling to make ends meet, to the upper-class in this story without a care in the world.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Cultural Contrast in Bizet’s Carmen at the Opéra-Comique

Soprano Célestine Galli-Marié, the first Carmen.

By Judy Tsou

Tsou is a music librarian emerita at the University of Washington, where she also taught opera analysis for two decades. She has published extensively on critical studies of gender and race in operas and musicals. Tsou is a member of the Seattle Opera Board of Directors.

In 1872, when Georges Bizet chose Prosper Mérimée’s infamous novella Carmen as the subject of his upcoming opera for Paris's Opéra-Comique, the reaction was swift from Adolphe de Leuven, one of the producers: “Carmen! The Carmen of Mérimée? Wasn’t she murdered by her lover? And the underworld of gypsies,* thieves, cigarette girls—at the Opéra-Comique, the theater of families or wedding parties? You would put the public to flight. No, no, impossible!” We know that Bizet got his way and de Leuven eventually resigned. The subject was risqué, especially for the Opéra-Comique, which by the 1870s had become increasingly conservative. The audience expected G-rated “rom-com” operas.

The librettist, Ludovic Halévy, attempted to appease the producers and offered the following remedies: a tamer Carmen (did not happen), a good-girl foil to Carmen (Micaëla), a heroic male character (Escamillo, the bullfighter) in place of the original narrator, Roma as comedians (not really), and Carmen’s death “glossed over at the very end of the opera [not!], in a holiday atmosphere [yes], with a parade [before the murder], a ballet [no], a joyful fanfare [sort of].”

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Decolonizing Allure: Women Artists of Color in Conversation


Seattle Opera's upcoming panel subverts Carmen’s white, patriarchal narrative at 7 p.m., Friday April 26. Panelists include: Michelle Habell-Pallán (top left), Naomi André (bottom left), Aramis O. Hamer (center), Perri Rhoden (top, right) and Sara Porkalob (bottom, right). 
At one point in time, a Seattle Opera ticket offered a relatively predictable experience: an enchanted night out, a grand presentation, and often a familiar telling of a popular work. But in the past few years, Seattle Opera has been inviting audiences to explore this art form from a different perspective. This is why, prior to the company’s May performance of Carmen, it plans to hold a free panel discussion that will flip the opera’s depiction of the exotic “Other” on its head. On April 26, the company presents “Decolonizing Allure: Women Artists of Color in Conversation.”

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Carmen on the Couch: Analyzing Bizet's Bold Heroine

Denyce Graves as Carmen, at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Metropolitan Opera Archives

By Tom Huizenga 
Article via NPR

Every opera season the perennial favorite, Carmen, by Georges Bizet, takes the stage at opera houses in places like New York, London and Vienna (And Seattle!).

Carmen owes its longevity, in part, to Bizet's sparkling music, and to its fearless, flirtatious title character. But for all her sexual charisma, Carmen's own fate, in Bizet's opera, says something about how society views strong women.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Carmen in Pop Culture

Carmen is often described as the most popular opera of all time, so it should come as no surprise that its music has been referenced by everything from the Muppets to Major League Baseball. Here we’ve compiled some of our favorite nods to Bizet’s masterpiece.