Washington National Opera Opens New Season With Carmen

Sep 19, 2015

Washington National Opera (WNO) opens its 2015-2016 season with a newto-Washington staging of Georges Bizet's popular classic Carmen, tonight, September 19, to October 3 in the Kennedy Center Opera House. Starring two French mezzo-sopranos-Clementine Margaine and Geraldine Chauvet- in the title role, this production also showcases two stars of flamenco dance, principal dancers Timo Nuñez (Fox's So You Think You Can Dance) and Fanny Ara. The production is staged by American director E. Loren Meeker and the WNO Orchestra is led by American conductor Evan Rogister. A special performance on Friday, October 2 features casting by current singers and alumni of WNO's Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program.

Sensual, rebellious, mercurial-that's the provocative gypsy Carmen. And to the dutiful soldier Don Jose, she is too much to handle...yet maddeningly irresistible. In a moment of unbridled passion, Don Jose ultimately surrenders to Carmen's seductive charms, forcing him to desert the army and abandon his childhood sweetheart Micaela for an outlaw's life in the 2 mountains. But once Carmen scorns his affections for the handsome matador Escamillo, her fiery act of betrayal ignites Don Jose's jealous rage, leading to shocking, murderous consequences. This sizzling production of one of opera's most famous and well-known works shifts the classic story to a Latin American setting smoldering with sensuality and danger. The familiar music pulses with erotic power-from the memorable overture to Carmen's rousing "Habanera" aria to the famous "Toreador Song"-all culminating in an unforgettable finale at a bullfight.

The stellar cast is led by two extraordinary French mezzo-sopranos. Clementine Margaine is one of the world's reigning Carmens, having performed the role in Berlin, Munich, Rome, and Dallas, with future engagements planned in New York, Chicago, Paris, Berlin, Naples, and Toronto. This production marks her WNO debut. Geraldine Chauvet, who dazzled WNO audiences as Fenena in Nabucco in 2012, returns to WNO in the role that first brought her international acclaim in 2009 at the Arena di Verona under the baton of former WNO General Director Placido Domingo.

Sharing the role of Don Jose are two powerhouse tenors: Bryan Hymel, one of opera's fastest-rising stars who is particularly celebrated for his roles in the French repertory, makes his WNO debut with this production; and Rafael Davila, last seen at WNO in The Force of Destiny and Norma. The dashing toreador Escamillo is sung by Michael Todd Simpson (WNO's Florencia in the Amazon and Show Boat) and former Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Aleksey Bogdanov, a veteran of 10 WNO productions. The innocent Micaela is played by Operalia and Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions winner Janai Brugger in her WNO debut, and Jacqueline Echols, a former Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist last seen at WNO as the wicked stepsister Clorinda in Cinderella and as Musetta in the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Performance of La boheme.

Members of WNO's Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program also figure prominently in the cast. Two alumni of the program sing featured roles-bass Kenneth Kellogg is Zuniga and baritone Christian Bowers sings El Dancairo. Current members of the program in the cast include tenor Rexford Tester as El Remendado, baritone Hunter Enoch as Morales, soprano Ariana Wehr as Frasquita, and mezzo-soprano Aleksandra Romano as Mercedes.

At the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Performance on Friday, October 2, program alumnus Sarah Mesko sings the role of Carmen. She has appeared at WNO as the Third Lady in The Magic Flute, as Hansel in Hansel and Gretel, and as Dorabella in Così fan tutte, among other roles. Current young artist Michael Brandenburg, last seen as the Steersman in WNO's The Flying Dutchman (2015), sings the role of Don Jose. Former young artist Aleksey Bogdanov is Escamillo, while current young artist Raquel Gonzalez, who memorably sang the role of Mimì in last season's Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Performance of La boheme, is Micaela.

The production, from Canadian Opera Company, is staged by American director E. Loren Meeker (WNO's Show Boat and Florencia in the Amazon) and the WNO Orchestra is led by American conductor Evan Rogister (WNO's Moby-Dick). The creative team also includes set design by Michael Yeargan, costume design by François St-Aubin in his WNO debut, additional costume design by Timm Burrow, lighting design by Robert Wierzel, and fight choreography by Robb Hunter.

In WNO's production of Carmen, dance complements the music and storytelling of the opera in unique ways, highlighting the work of two principal dancers. Fanny Ara is an internationally acclaimed flamenco dancer who makes her WNO debut with this production. Timo Nuñez, who is well known to fans of Fox's So You Think You Can Dance, also makes his WNO debut. The principal and corps dancers are paced by choreographer Sara Erde, who last worked at WNO on The Force of Destiny in 2013. Since 1996, Erde has enjoyed an annual collaboration with the Metropolitan Opera as a choreographer, assistant director, movement coach, and dancer.

Carmen opens on Saturday, September 19, 2015 at 7 p.m. and runs for 12 performances, including September 20m, 21, 24, 25, 26, 27m, 29, October 1, and both matinee and evening performances on October 3. The special Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Performance is Friday, October 2. Visit WNO's website for complete production details and casting information.

Washington National Opera's 2015-2016 season also includes the world premiere of a newly revised version of Appomattox by composer Philip Glass and librettist Christopher Hampton, a revival of WNO's charming holiday production of Hansel and Gretel, the company premiere of Kurt Weill's Lost in the Stars in a gripping production from Cape Town Opera, and WNO's first complete staging of Wagner's extraordinary four-part Ring Cycle, with a world-class cast under the direction of Francesca Zambello and featuring the WNO Orchestra conducted by WNO Music Director Philippe Auguin. Subscription packages are available now.