Masterworks VI: Carmen in Concert!

Date: Saturday, 30 April 2022
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Place: Helena Civic Center
Cost: $25 – $55

One of the most thrilling stories ever told, Carmen pulls us into a messy love triangle between a handsome soldier, a sexy bullfighter, and the free-spirited gypsy seductress who is driven by her heart’s desire and makes men melt. Live dangerously and be tempted by one of the greatest female heroines ever – Carmen!

“It is one of the great operas that shows the femme fatal, the strong woman.” says Maestro Allan R. Scott. “Carmen hypnotizes everybody, including the audience. She hypnotizes the two main men – Don Jose, the solider, and Escamillo, the bullfighter. We in the audience are Don Jose because we cannot resist Carmen, but at the same time we cannot have her.”

Masterworks VI will be presented thanks to the generosity of our sponsors Helena Home Team, D.A. Davidson, the Best Western Premier Great Northern Hotel, Treasure State Internet & Telegraph, and AARP Montana!

Kirstin Chávez is considered one of the most riveting and significant performing mezzo-sopranos today. The combination of her magnificent voice, expansive range, dramatic intensity of her acting, and natural physical beauty make her an arresting and unique presence on the operatic stage. Ms. Chávez captures attention and acclaim and is recognized as one of the definitive interpreters of Carmen of our generation. She has performed Bizet’s iconic heroine with great success throughout the world with leading opera companies and symphonies including New National Theatre Foundation in Tokyo, Staatsoper Hannover, Opera Australia, China National Center for the Performing Arts, Opera Queensland, Welsh National Opera, Opera San Antonio, and the Kaohsiung Spring Arts Festival. Opera News reported that her Carmen was “the Carmen of a lifetime. With her dark, generous mezzo, earthy eroticism, volcanic spontaneity and smoldering charisma, Chávez has it all, including a superb command of French and a sense of humor.”

While the score is obviously French, Bizet elegantly works elements of Spanish music into Carmen, such as a gypsy song, some flamenco dancing, and the famous “Habañera” (of which Bizet made over ten revisions). Giving into Wagner’s influence over nineteenth century operas, Bizet makes the orchestra as important as the singers (which several French critics disliked) and uses Wagner’s concept of leitmotif where certain musical themes are associated with specific characters and ideas. Carmen and her death are represented immediately after the overture to the opera with a slow, mysterious, and haunting melody that appears throughout the four acts. In addition to this fate motif, Carmen’s influence over José is captured by a beautifully tragic theme that also is used frequently.

The premiere production was indeed a risky venture for the venerable Opéra-Comique in 1875. In spite of his training at one of the most respected conservatories and winning the most coveted prize for composition in all of Europe, Bizet was not a well-established composer. The Opéra-Comique in Paris had become a venue that attracted families and a conservative crowd accustomed to sentimentality, moral plots, happy endings, and elements of the supernatural and exotic. In many ways Carmen met the expectations of the exotic, but the realism, amoral characters, tragic ending, and absence of fantasy put off much of the audience and critics. Even the elements of the exotic Seville and lead character, who exemplified a bold, reckless, and dangerous female, were not appealing. When the subject of Carmen was proposed to the theatre one of the directors of the company resigned in protest. A friend of one of the librettists commented “I won’t mince words. Carmen is a flop, a disaster! It will never play more than twenty times.”

Carmen was not well-received in Paris nor during Bizet’s lifetime; however, when the opera premiered in Vienna, it quickly became part of standard repertoire. Bizet’s score not only has remained one of the most popular operas, but a number of other composers have used themes from Bizet’s score as the basis for their own works: Sarasate’s Carmen Fantasy for violin and orchestra, film composer Franz Waxman’s Carmen Fantasie, and pianist Vladimir Horowitz’s Variations on a theme from Carmen for solo piano.

In this last work of Bizet’s, Carmen became the musical representation that linked Bizet as the true bridge between Berlioz and Debussy. His death at the young age of 36 (just after the thirtieth performance of Carmen) is today believed to be the greatest single blow to French music in the nineteenth century. In many ways it seems a necessity and less of a tragedy for the femme fatale in the opera to die, as the real tragedy and conclusion of the opera is perhaps Bizet’s death so suddenly and so young, and never able to see the success of his greatest work.

The Helena Symphony is especially grateful to AARP Montana, who secured the naming rights to HomeStream Your Helena Symphony in 2020. “AARP Montana is so excited to help bring the artistic excellence of the Helena Symphony’s music-making to people in the safety of their homes,” says Tim Summers, State Director of AARP Montana.

These live streams can be viewed on a smart phone, tablet, laptop and desktop computers, smart televisions, and televisions connected to the internet – or anywhere you have access to YouTube. Most televisions offer YouTube as an app or can be attached to another computing device to watch on the big screen. While nothing can replace the experience of attending a live performance, we feel that the live stream offers an exciting and new way to enjoy a concert. Each stream will be shot by 6-7 cameras and the camera crew will be able to operate within the Orchestra, offering close-up shots of musicians, front-side views of Maestro Scott, and visuals that are not possible by sitting in the auditorium. There will also be a pre-concert host, and short backstage interviews throughout the evening.

There is no charge for the HomeStream Your Helena Symphony presented by AARP Montana, which will be available on YouTube and the Helena Symphony’s website. There will be an option available online and through Venmo to donate to the Helena Symphony.

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