By Patrick Barnham
Scottish Opera’s new production of Georges Bizet’s Carmen opens at Theatre Royal Glasgow on 12 May, before touring to Inverness, Aberdeen and Edinburgh, concluding the Company’s 60th Season.
Director John Fulljames (Nixon in China 2020) has teamed up with librettist and translator Christopher Cowell to present a fresh reframing of this classic tale of jealousy, lust, and life outside the dictates of society, that remains faithful to Bizet’s opera as well as Prosper Mérimée’s original novella.
Sung in English and set in 1970s Spain during a period of great unrest and upheaval, the testimony of an unnamed narrator-turned-detective investigating Carmen’s murder frames Bizet’s famous music (which includes the Habanera, Flower Aria, and Toreador Song) as she listens to the confessions of the obsessive Don José.
Dane Lam (La traviata 2017) conducts Justina Gringyte (Thérèse 2022 and Carmen 2015) as Carmen, the eternal outsider, carving out a life by her own rules in a militaristic and patriarchal society.
Alok Kumar is making his Scottish Opera debut as Don José alongside Phillip Rhodes (Falstaff 2021) as Escamillo, Hye-Youn Lee (The Verdi Collection, 2023) as Micaëla, Thomas D Hopkinson (also making his Company debut) as Zuniga, Dan Shelvey (Ainadamar 2022) as Moralès, and actor Carmen Pieraccini.
Also joining the cast are four of Scottish Opera’s 22/23 Emerging Artists – Zoe Drummond, Lea Shaw, Osian Wyn Bowen, and Colin Murray.
The design team includes Sarah Beaton (Sets), Christina Cunningham (Costume) and James Farncombe (Lighting) with Projections by Will Duke. Jenny Ogilvie returns to Scottish Opera as Movement Director.
Director John Fulljames said: “I can’t wait to be back in Scotland with the wonderful artists, craftspeople and audiences of Scottish Opera.
“It is a real privilege to be making a new production of Carmen – this is such an iconic score it is impossible not to be swept up in it. It is also a potent and often surprising piece of theatre. I really hope we will bring it to life both as a much-loved classic and also reveal how it can speak freshly to a new time and new generation.”
Conductor Dane Lam, who was recently appointed Music Director Designate of the Hawaii Symphony Orchestra added: “I’ve always loved spending time in Scotland, and I am so thrilled to return to Scottish Opera to conduct this extraordinary new production of Carmen from director John Fulljames.
“Scottish Opera has been such a nurturing company to me, and it is a joy to be collaborating with them again on such a rich and immortal work. The music of Carmen is magnificent, and the piece is one that I revel in digging into afresh every time I open the score.”
Last Season, Scottish Opera launched new afternoon Access shows to allow audience members the flexibility and freedom to relax and move about as required during performances. This Season there will be Access performances (supported by Scottish Opera’s Education Angels) of Carmen in Glasgow, Inverness, Aberdeen and Edinburgh.
With Dementia Friendly values at their core, these shorter performances (under two hours including an interval) are open to all, whether you’re recovering from an operation, have breathing difficulties, are living with dementia, have a young baby or on the autism spectrum.
The Access performances, which include a presenter to help guide audiences through the story, are conducted by former Scottish Opera Emerging Artist Toby Hession, and performed by a cast of singers. Doors open 45 minutes before the start time so there is no need to rush, there are brighter lighting levels than usual in the auditorium and television screens are located around the theatre for those who prefer to watch in the lobby or sit in a quiet area.
Half-hour pre-show talks, delving into the detail of Carmen are also available this season.
Those who are visually impaired can take advantage of audio-described performances, where a live commentary is provided, describing the action on stage without compromising the music.
As part of the experience, a recorded introduction to the opera is provided in advance, and there is a free Touch Tour of the set and
a live audio introduction before the start of the performance.