Finding depth in seductress, spurned lover in 'Carmen's Tragedy'

2014-03-21T00:15:00Z 2014-03-21T08:03:03Z Finding depth in seductress, spurned lover in 'Carmen's Tragedy'Story By JACI WEBB Photos By CASEY PAGE jwebb@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

In his directorial debut, Bozeman tenor Jeff Kitto takes on some of the world’s most familiar music in Georges Bizet’s “Carmen’s Tragedy.”

But what Kitto was raving about last week was Jayme Green’s fight choreography and the gun play on stage. As the opera’s leading male character, Don Jose, Kitto is exploring the passion and irrationality of a man who loves too much. He gets to exhibit his infatuation with fists and guns.

“All these characters are so complex, so deep,” Kitto said. “You can watch it 50 times, and depending on who plays Jose, you’ll see a different approach to him every time.”

Billings is a familiar market for Kitto and the role of Don Jose is comfortable for the one-time rock musician, who performed with the Bozeman rock band The Clintons. Since turning to opera, Kitto has performed as Jose five times.

Kitto is a contrast to the hot-headed Jose, who likes to kill to show off for his girl. Kitto doesn’t seem to get too worked up about things, but when he gets on stage he’s a vocal powerhouse.

“I keep telling everybody, ‘Don’t worry, we’re going to rock this show,’ “ Kitto said.

William Mouat, a veteran opera singer, will assist with directing since he wrote his doctoral thesis on “Carmen.”

The opera, which was written in French and set in Spain, will be performed in English at NOVA Center for the Performing Arts on March 29 and 30. If the two scheduled performances sell out, the rehearsal on March 28 will be turned into a full production open to the public.

The object of Jose’s sick affections is the title character, played by Billings performer Michelle Berger. The mezzo-soprano has made her mark nationally and performed in several operas in Billings. She has performed in “Carmen” four times.

Because the opera will be performed without an orchestra, vocalists will not have to strain their voices trying to sing over the instruments. They will also involve the audience more in the production because

the venue is smaller. Don’t be surprised if Carmen brushes against your shoulder or one of the soldiers locks eyes with you while you sit in the audience.

This production is the first produced by NOVA, which came out of the merger of two organizations, Rimrock Opera Co. and Venture Theatre.

During Carmen’s aria, “Habanera,” she sings to dozens of people in the town square. In this production, Berger will sing to the audience, interacting with them as if they are part of her chorus, Kitto said.

Berger plans to portray Carmen as a multi-dimensional woman, not limiting her to “only a strumpet.”

“There is this sort of sick, devious side of her. But she is also driven by her passion. She does love these men and it’s not just sexual attraction,” Berger said.

Sandi Rabas will accompany the vocalists on piano. Other performers include Mouat as the bullfighter Escamillo, Carolyn Coefield as Micaela, Shawn Rasch as Lillas Pastia, and Green will portray Lt. Zuniga and Garcia.

The opera, “Carmen,” is taken from the book by Prosper Merimee, “Carmen and Other Stories.” Bizet chose the fictional story to base the opera on after he was commissioned by the Opera-Comique to write a full-length opera. Bizet had never been to Spain, but he set the opera there because the novel was about an adventure in Spain.

When “Carmen” opened in 1875, reviewers at the time criticized the work, calling Carmen “an amoral seductress” and complaining that it was “the very incarnation of vice.” In 1884, “Carmen” made its Metropolitan Opera debut in New York and became part of the Met’s regular repertoire.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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