Program Notes: Carmen – Opera In Concert
Georges Bizet (1838 – 1875)
GEORGES BIZET (1838-1875)
Carmen, opéra-comique in four acts to a libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy after Prosper Mérimée’s novel (1873-4)
Carmen, the feisty, free-spirited, man-eating femme fatale was a new type of heroine on the operatic stage when she first stunned the audience at the Opéra-Comique in Paris in 1875. Here was a frankly sexual factory worker from Seville – a gypsy who not only seduced men, but had her way with them on stage. With her very public Act 4 murder at the bullring, the victim of a stabbing by a lover, Carmen’s life came far too close to real life for a first-night audience used to the cosy conventions of the opéra-comique. A critical mauling from the French press was inevitable.
Bizet’s love triangle centres on Carmen, relishing her power to taunt men in her Act One Habañera, then zeroing in on the naïve, troubled corporal Don José in the enticing Seguidilla. Escamillo, who sings the swaggering, self-confident, self-absorbed ‘Toreador’s song’, sets himself up as another potential conquest on whom Carmen can cast her eye. Her remorselessness and José’s conflicting emotions explode in the drama of the opera finale in one of the most gripping musico-drammatic scenes on the operatic stage.
Not surprisingly, a buzz immediately built around the opera’s unashamed sexuality, bloody violence, moral depravity and even – quaint as it may seem – the very notion of Carmen’s female factory fellow-workers smoking on stage. Audiences were drawn by the prospect of titillation. Others could see beyond the sensationalism surrounding the new opera and recognized Bizet’s melodic and dramatic genius. Tchaikovsky saw the original production and relished it, calling it, perceptively: “one of those rare pieces that are destined to reflect most strongly the musical aspirations of an entire epoch.” Even crusty old Brahms repeatedly asked his publisher for a copy of the musical score. He came to view Carmen as one of the finest contemporary operas, and took the young Debussy to see a production, saying that he himself had seen the opera 20 times. Nietzsche famously praised the four-act comic opera as the perfect antidote to Wagnerian neurosis. Bizet, however, did not live to enjoy the acclaim. He was to die at 36, just three months after the première of an opera that remains among the most performed in the repertory.
A public square in Seville outside a tobacco factory and barracks, around 1830
As a group of soldiers, stationed outside a tobacco factory, stand around, an innocent young peasant girl, Micaëla, tries to deliver a letter to the handsome corporal Don José, who grew up in her village. The female workers come out for their smoke break and the men call for the brazen, dazzling Carmen. She taunts them, declaring that love is free and obeys no rules, tossing a flower in the direction of corporal Don José, who pretends to ignore it.
In the factory, Carmen gets into a catfight, stabs a co-worker and wastes no time in enticing Don José into helping her escape prison.
Lilla Pastia’s tavern in Seville some months later
Carmen is partying with her gypsy friends when the prizewinning bullfighter Escamillo arrives with his Toreador’s Song to seek her out. Her thoughts, however, still centre on Don José, who has just been released after spending one month in jail for helping her escape. When José arrives, Carmen dances another of her sexy numbers for him, mocking him and questioning his love for her when distant bugle calls summon him back to barracks. Drawing the dried flower from his uniform, Don José sings his heart-pulling Flower Song, a passionate outpouring of love, which eventually leads him to desert and join Carmen’s smuggler friends
A camp in the mountains, several months later
At the smuggler’s camp, Carmen’s interests are now turning away from Don José and towards the toreador Escamillo. The smuggler’s songs glorifying the rewards of their adventures soon turn dark as the cards predict the imminent death of both Carmen and Don José. He is left alone to guard the booty while the others leave on a smuggling mission.
Micaëla appears, still on her Don José quest, followed closely by Escamillo seeking Carmen. Don José challenges the toreador and the fight is broken up by Carmen and the returning smugglers. When Micaëla reveals that Don José’s mother is dying, the two of them leave, José threatening to see Carmen again, Escamillo promising to dedicate the next bull he kills to Carmen.
Outside the bullring in Seville
Escamillo greets the crowd on the day of his bullfight, Carmen now declaring her love for him. As the crowd enters the arena, Don José appears and pleads for a life together with Carmen. She jeers at him, making for the entrance as cries of victory are heard from within the bullring. She affirms her love for the victorious toreador. José stabs her, she falls down dead, the triumphant Escamillo appears out of the bullring and Don José gives himself up.
Carmen (mezzo-soprano): a flirtatious, free-spirited gypsy girl working in the Seville tobacco factory, also a member of a smuggler gang.
Don José (tenor): A corporal in the dragoons who falls in love with Carmen.
Micaëla (soprano): A pretty but unworldly village girl who pursues Don José in the hope of marriage.
Escamillo (baritone): A macho bullfighter eager to wave his muleta in front of Carmen.
Zuniga (bass): A lieutenant in the army, stabbed for ordering Don José to return to barracks.
Andrei Feher, conductor
Andrei Feher has already earned a reputation for his musical maturity and integrity, natural authority on the podium, and an imaginative and intelligent approach to programming. At the age of 26 Feher was appointed as the new Music Director of the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra, a position which is effective from August 2018.
Having gained early experience as assistant to Fabien Gabel at the Orchestre Symphonique de Quebec, at the age of 22 Feher joined the Orchestre de Paris as Assistant Conductor to its Music Director, Paavo Järvi. During this time he collaborated with conductors including Zubin Mehta, Valery Gergiev, Christoph von Dohnányi, Thomas Hengelbrock and Jaap van Zweden, as well as regularly conducting the orchestra in their popular Young Public concerts at the Philharmonie de Paris.
In addition to his commitments with the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra, recent and upcoming highlights include performances with the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal, Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne, Orchestre Symphonique de Quebec, Les Violons du Roy, Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo, Orchestre National d’Ile de France, Orchestre Métropolitain Montreal and Romanian Radio National Orchestra.
A strong advocate of contemporary music, Feher has recently performed works by Eric Champagne, Pierre Mercure, George Dimitrov, Ciprian Pop and Abigail Richardson, as well as the world premiere of Thierry Besancon’s opera for children Les Zoocrates with Opéra de Lausanne. In November 2015, Feher conducted the world premiere of Soleil Noir by Pierre Jodlowski with the Orchestre de Pau-Béarn, which resulted in an immediate invitation to conduct the work in Toulouse in November 2016.
Born in Romania into a family of musicians, Feher began his musical education as a violinist in his hometown Satu-Mare before continuing his studies at the Montreal Conservatoire when his parents relocated to Canada.
Daniel Isengart, host
Daniel Isengart was born in Munich, Germany and raised in France. Since his NYC stage debut in 1994 (in Tina Landau’s Stonewall – Night Variations), he has become a specialist in the intimate performance style of the cabaret genre. Especially noted for his interpretations of the songs of Brecht and Weill (which he sings in his own translations) he has been instrumental in reviving an interest in the vintage German and French cabaret repertoire in New York City. Over the years, he has performed in countless cabaret venues and supper clubs including Joe’s Pub, Café Sabarsky, the BAMCafé, The Bowery Poetry Club, Duane Park, and now-defunct legendary spaces like Galapagos Art Space and Bar d’O, as well as at special events including return engagements at Deutsches Haus, the Museum Mile Festival and the Paley Center for Media (where he performed songs of Marlene Dietrich’s repertoire at the premiere of Marlene – Her Own Song, in the presence of Dietrich’s daughter and biographer, Maria Riva.) Regional appearances include commissioned cabaret-style concerts at SF MoMA, the Cleveland Museum of Modern Art, and the Philadelphia Museum.
In 2007, Isengart created a pop-up variety show called Foreign Affairs that ran successfully in multiple venues, culminating with a-year-long residency at the Night Hotel in Times Square in 2009. In 2008, The Museum of Modern Art commissioned him to create a variety show for a special event for its seminal exhibit on the German Expressionist painter Ludwig Kirchner. Isengart called it The Boulevard of Berlin Dreams.
Isengart has coached and directed many singers in the cabaret world, most notably international chanteuse Yanna Avis. He has also guest-lectured on the history of cabaret and Kleinkunst at Duke University in North Carolina.
In 2011, Isengart began a fruitful collaboration with maestro Edwin Outwater, under whose baton he performed songs by Kurt Weill (with soprano Measha Brueggergosman), and HK Gruber’s seminal Frankenstein!! song cycle. Most recently, Outwater invited Isengart to act as dramaturg, stage director and narrator in a staged concert of the Johann Strauss operetta Die Fledermaus, performed with a full cast of soloists, a chorus and the Kitchener Waterloo Symphony Orchestra.
Isengart lives in New York City with his partner, conceptual artist Filip Noterdaeme, who authored a memoir about their symbiotic, neo-bohemian life in NYC titled The Autobiography of Daniel J. Isengart, written as a modern adaptation of Gertrude Stein’s memoir à clef, The Autobiography of Alice B, Toklas.
Isengart has written analytical pieces about the intersection of food and culture for Slate and The Huffington Post and is a contributing writer for Jarry Magazine.
Lucia Cervoni, mezzo-soprano
Canadian mezzo soprano Lucia Cervoni studied at the Manhattan School of Music‚ where she received numerous awards and scholarships‚ including the Hugh Ross Award and the Anna Case Mackay Grant from Santa Fe Opera . She was a member of Seattle Opera’s Young Artists Programme‚ where she performed roles such as Mrs Grose The Turn of the Screw and Carmen in Peter Brooks’ The Tragedy of Carmen‚ and won the Washington International Singing Competition in 2007.
Recent and future engagements include Carmen Carmen (Kitchener Waterloo Symphony‚ Canada)‚ Amneris Aida‚ Amastris Xerxes and Grimgerde Die Walkure (Theater Magdeburg)‚ Octavian Der Rosenkavalier (Welsh National Opera)‚ Suzuki Madama Butterfly (Den Jyske Opera)‚ title role in Philippe Boesmans’ Julie (Canadian Stage‚ Toronto)‚ Verdi’s Requiem (The Grange Festival)‚ and Dorabella Cosi fan tutte‚ Siebel Faust‚ 3rd Lady Die Zauberflöte‚ Cherubino Le Nozze di Figaro‚ Ulrica Un Ballo in Maschera‚ Mary Der fliegende Holländer‚ Frau Reich (Meg Page) Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor‚ Suzuki and Donna Isabella Die Braut von Messina (Theater Magdeburg).
As a Fest Artist in Magdeburg she has also sung the roles of Octavian Der Rosenkavalier‚ Charlotte Werther‚ Carmen‚ Hansel Hansel und Gretel‚ Eboli Don Carlos‚ Suzuki‚ Hermia A Midsummer Night’s Dream‚ Niklaus / Muse The Tales of Hoffmann‚ Zita Gianni Schicchi‚ Maddalena Rigoletto‚ Diana Orpheus in the Underworld‚ Tisbe La Cenerentola and Henze’s El Rey de Harlem. Further engagements in Europe include Charlotte (Theater Freiburg) and Suzuki (Staatstheater Schwerin).
Engagements in the USA include Third Lady Die Zauberflöte and Tessa in John Kennedy’s The Trinity (Santa Fe Opera)‚ Cornelia Giulio Cesare (Glimmerglass Opera) and Suky Tawdry The Beggar’s Opera (Castleton Festival‚ under Lorin Maazel).
Notable concert appearances include Handel’s Messiah and Mozart’s Missa Solemnis (Santa Fe Symphony)‚ St John Passion (Singapore Symphony)‚ Mahler’s Die Rückert Lieder Verdi’s Requiem and Beethoven’s 9th Symphony (Magdeburg) and Messiah (South Carolina Philharmonic).
Ernesto Ramirez, tenor
Mexican tenor Ernesto Ramírez is garnering rave reviews for his distinctive Italianate sound, “wonderfully fluid line and brilliant high notes,” combined with his “suave, nuanced lyricism.” Ernesto debuted as Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly with Mexico’s Opera de Leon, Stefano in Calgary Opera’s Filumena, and looks forward to his first Don Jose with Opera Kelowna’s Carmen in August, 2018.
Ernesto has performed to great acclaim for audiences in France, Germany, Switzerland, Canada, and the United States.
Operatic roles for Ernesto include Tamino in Die Zauberflöte with Palacio de Bellas Artes, Ramiro in La Cenerentola with Teatro del Bicentenario in Mexico, and with the Rossini in Wildbad Belcanto Opera Festival in Germany. In Canada, Ernesto starred as Nadir in Les Pêcheurs des Perles with Opera Hamilton, and Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor with Pacific Opera Victoria. Ernesto sang a “touching and radiant” Nemorino in L’Elisir d’Amore with Opéra de Angers-Nantes, and with Festival Folies DʼO Montpellier.
He starred in the title role of Verdi’s Stiffelio with Toronto’s Voicebox: Opera in Concert, Raoul in the Canadian Premiere of Meyerbeer’s Les Huegenots, Arturo in I Puritani, and sang Alfredo in La Traviata with the Sarasota Opera.
His “resplendent tenor” has been heard in performances of Verdi’s Requiem with Brott Music Festival, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, Niagara Symphony and Kingston Symphony. Opera companies in Zurich, Quebec, Montreal, Tel-Aviv and Mexico City have welcomed him as a guest artist in their Opera Galas. He also performed at The 150th Anniversary of Puccini, a gala hosted by Simonetta Puccini.
Ernesto earned a Bachelor of Music in Clarinet Performance from the University of Guadalajara in Mexico, and graduated from Boston Universityʼs Opera Institute. He has received awards from The Metropolitan Opera Council Auditions in Los Angeles, the Society of Singers Foundation and the New West Symphony Young Artist Prize.
Alexander Dobson, baritone
British-Canadian baritone Alexander Dobson has been praised for his musical and dramatic artistry on both opera and concert stages. He was lauded for his “gripping embodiment of Wozzeck” (Journal Voir) in a production of the Berg opera with Théâtre du Nouveau Monde and Orchestre Métropolitain, conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin.
This season Dobson makes his third appearance in three seasons with Florentine Opera, performing the role of Betteron in Carlise Floyd’s Prince of Players. Concert highlights include Messiah performances with Symphony Nova Scotia and St. Thomas Church in New York as well as Durufle’s Requiem with the Bach Society of St. Louis and Bizet’s Carmen in concert with the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony. Other engagements of note include the Canadianpremiere of The Mute and the Canary, a new opera by Rudolf Komorous, with Turning Point Ensemble and Spoleto Festival USA’s production of Zemlinksy’s Spring Symphony at Luminato Festival.
Dobson’s operatic roles include the title role in Don Giovanni with Florentine Opera, “Masetto”inDon Giovanni and “Maximilian” in Bernstein’s Candide with Calgary Opera, and “The Count” in The Marriage of Figaro with Against the Grain. Concert highlights include Mahler’s Songs of a Wayfayer with Orchestre Métropolitain, Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with Toronto Symphony, and Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 with Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducting the combined National Arts Centre Orchestra and Orchestre Métropolitain.
Midori Marsh, soprano
Midori Marsh is a Canadian-American soprano from Cleveland, Ohio. She received her BMUS in Honours Voice Performance in 2017, and her opera diploma in 2018 both from Wilfrid Laurier University, studying with mezzo soprano Kimberly Barber. Her opera roles performed include Antonia in Les contes D’Hoffmann and Laurie Moss in The Tender Land both with Laurier Opera, Magda Sorel in The Consul with Long Reach Opera Workshop, Zerlina in Don Giovanni with Portland Summer Opera Workshop and Annina in La Traviata with the Cambridge Symphony Orchestra. This year she will be singing the role of Rose Maurrant in Kurt Weill’s Street Scene , Arminda in Mozart’s La Finta Giardiniera , both with University of Toronto Opera and Frasquita in Bizet’s Carmen with the KW Symphony Orchestra. She was the soprano soloist in Mozart’s Requiem with the Guelph Symphony Orchestra and was a featured soloist in the world premier of Babel: A Choral Symphony at Laurier. She plans to pursue a performance career and is currently attending graduate school at the University of Toronto, studying under Wendy Nielsen.
Autumn Wascher, soprano
Autumn Wascher is a Canadian soprano pursuing her Honours Bachelor of Music in Voice Performance at Wilfrid Laurier University under the tutelage of Marianne Bindig. She has performed as Antonia and Giulietta in The Tales of Hoffmann, Prima Donna in Ariadne Auf Naxos, Mrs. Ford in The Merry Wives of Windsor (excerpt), Gerhilde in Die Walküre (excerpt) and Senta in Der Fliegende Holländer (excerpt). Autumn is also looking forward to singing the title role in Massenet’s Cendrillon with Opera Laurier in March 2019. Autumn is so excited and grateful for the opportunity to perform the role of Micaëla in Carmen with the KW Symphony.
Jamie Groote, mezzo-soprano
Mezzo soprano, Jamie Groote is a Toronto native currently completing her Masters of Music in Opera performance at University of Toronto where she is a member of the affectionately named “Opera School”. Jamie completed both her Honours BMus in voice performance and Opera diploma under Kimberly Barber at Wilfred Laurier University where she was nominated for the Hynatyshyn Foundation grant. Jamie’s love for the operatic stage is incredibly clear in her artistry and she dreams of a performing career. Some of her roles to date include: Romeo (I Capuleti e I Montecchi), Nicklausse (Les contes d’Hoffmann), Donna Elvira (Don Giovanni), Jade Boucher (Dead man walking), Fox (Cunning little vixen), Mrs. Jones (Street Scene), Enfant (L’enfant et les sortiléges), Mrs. Gibbs (Our Town), Prince Orlofsky (Die Fledermaus), and Componist (Ariadne auf Naxos), to name a few.
As a young performer Jamie has had the opportunity to attend such esteemed programs as Banff Centre’s Opera in the 21st Century, Central City Opera’s Bonfils-Stanton Young Artist Program, Houston Grand Opera’s Young Artist Vocal Academy, and Opera NUOVA. Most recently Jamie competed in the Canadian Opera Company’s Centre Stage Competition where she was thrilled to take home 3rd place. She also looks very forward to continuing an exciting season where she will sing her final role with U of T Opera as Ramiro (La finta giardiniera) and will also attend Opera Theatre of Saint Louis where she will sing a number of small roles while covering the title role of Poppea in The Coronation of Poppea.
River Guard, tenor
Hailing from Hamilton, Ontario, River Guard graduated from Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo studying with Mezzo-Soprano, Kimberly Barber. University roles include Tanzmeister in Ariadne auf Naxos, and Nathanaël, Spalanzani, and Franz in Les contes d’Hoffmann. In the summer of 2016 he sang the role of Rinuccio in Halifax Summer Opera Festival’s production of Gianni Schicchi. This past summer, River returned to Opera NUOVA to sing the role of Lensky in Eugene Onegin under Maestro Gordon Gerrard. River completed his Opera Diploma at Wilfrid Laurier University this year, and sang Martin in Aaron Copland’s The Tender Land. River will be continuing his schooling at The University of Toronto for the Masters in Opera program in the fall.
Chad Louwerse, bass-baritone
Canadian Bass-Baritone Chad Louwerse was singled out in Chabrier’s l’Étoile by Claude Gingras of La Presse who wrote, “for pure comedy, first distinction goes to Chad Louwerse.” He made his European debut as Bernadino in Berlioz’ Benvenuto Cellini with l’Opéra National du Rhin in Strasbourg, France. In Canada he has been engaged by Pacific Opera Victoria, Vancouver Opera, Edmonton Opera, and l’Opéra de Montréal, among others.
An active oratorio singer and recitalist, Mr. Louwerse’s concert repertoire includes Handel’s Messiah, the Bach Mass in B-minor, the Brahms and Mozart Requiem and Mendelssohn’s Elijah. He is a winner of both the CBC Westcoast Performance Pacific Spotlight competition and the Début competition and has given recitals broadcast on CBC Radio Two. Alongside his performance career he is pursuing a Doctor of Musical Arts degree at Western University where he studies with Canadian Baritone Ted Baerg. He is also on the voice faculty of Wilfred Laurier University.