OperaDelaware’s Spicy 75th Season Weaves Legends Beyond the Classic Tale of Carmen
Beyonce. Anika Noni Rose. Olympians Katarina Witt and Brian Boitano. Dorothy Dandridge. Harry Belafonte. Pearl Bailey.
There’s a reason these attractive contemporary icons have been attached to works inspired by Georges Bizet’s 1875 French opera: Carmen’s “Habanera” and “Toreador Song” are among the most widely known of all operatic arias, and the story is a passionate one. SPOILER ALERT: like a lot of opera, somebody important dies in the end.
While some operas highlight the drama of kings and their courts, Carmen is a tale of folks whom modern pundits might call “working class,” and, in fact, the operatic character Carmen is a member of an oppressed ethnic minority. Bizet adapted Prosper Mérimée’s novella of the same name, which may have been influenced by Alexander Pushkin’s 1824 plainly-titled poem, “The Gypsies.”
As it happens, Carmen was OperaDelaware’s first-ever opera, way back in 1945. Since OD is celebrating its 75th season, it is perhaps appropriate that they will also reexamine the company’s most frequently presented opera from November 15—17 at The Black Box Theater at the OperaDelaware Studios (4 S. Poplar St., Wilmington, DE). “Beyond Carmen” offers a twist on the standard Carmen presentation.
OperaDelaware has engaged mezzo-soprano Audrey Babcock to not just sing, but weave legends of the Old World into a 21st-century musical tapestry that spans generations and genres. The program will range from classical to tango, medieval to modern, featuring accompaniment by guitarist Andrés Vadin.
Babcock says, “Carmen. There is no more iconic woman in Operatic history. She is so singled out that her image has become mainstream and is synonymous with the Femme Fatale. There is no image, no legend, no creature, more riddled with weaponized femininity than my beloved, Carmencita. Carmen’s origin story is rich—it has been written that the author of the original novella, Prosper Mérimée, derived his inspiration for this illusory gypsy from a real-life Sephardic Jew. Though Jews were exotic at the time, Gypsies had a more solid reputation for nefariousness and made a more daring choice for his Parisian newspaper-reading audience. With ‘Beyond Carmen’ we will explore her Sephardic roots, singing in Ladino or ‘Judeo Spanish,’ similar to ancient Castilian Spanish. We will play with the rhythms, textures, and accents of the marginalized people of the diaspora, and most of all we will sing and cry out for the misunderstood experience of being fiercely female in a time that saw a woman’s strength as something dangerous, dark, and destined for annihilation.”
Babcock is an award-winning mezzo-soprano who is credited with nearly a dozen commanding, powerful performances as Carmen, including the French Festival Lyrique-en-Mer and Florentine Opera, and companies from New York to San Antonio to Anchorage. Recording under the name “Aviva,” Babcock’s album, “Songs for Carmen,” is a collection of works sung in Ladino and Arabic, inspired by the character Carmen.
Cuban-born Andrés Vadin is an award-winning guitarist and composer who explores the flamenco guitar genre with traditional and contemporary interpretations, often infused with Cuban, Arabic, and jazz influences. He has performed with renowned flamenco artists and played in festivals such as Glastonbury and the Montreal International Jazz Music Festival. He collaborated on two Latin Grammy-nominated albums: Cuba le canta a Serrat (2005) with Aceituna sin Hueso and Bajo Mundo (2017) with Oskar Cartaya.
Limited seating available; each session only accommodates 100 guests. Tickets are $40 at operade.org.