Photograph: Crispin Lord

Carmen: “The music is the master”

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With a cast of over 100 members – including 11 children – Carmen is Durham Opera Ensemble’s (DOE) biggest performance this year.

Director Crispin Lord, tells Indigo the team put in a lot of effort into the show – whether it’s the length of time spent in rehearsals, the money spent on the production, or the emotional investment of the singers and players. The performance has been four months in the making, and also has the biggest budget allocated to it out of all of the DOE shows in a year.

Interviewing him on Sunday, in the midst of rehearsals, he was visibly excited to speak to Indigo about the show. He says planning for the show has been extremely tiring: as show director he has to take into account not only the technical team, actors and singers, but also the musicians of the orchestra.

Carmen will be performed in English, instead of the original French by Bizet. Despite having a script to work with (original translation by David Parry), the production team changed parts that they felt weren’t smooth.

Lord says, “There were some parts that we felt didn’t quite flow as smoothly, especially when you consider how the original music score was composed to fit the French language – some English words, because of the different numbers of syllabus, might not fit the music.”

“We reworked the aria Habanera, sung by Carmen, the most in order to better fit the music.”

When asked to name his single favourite part of the performance, Lord hesitates in isolating one, saying: “It’s hard to pick the one part I liked the most; to me the entire production has to be taken as a whole.”

Referencing the Wagnerian concept of Gesamtkunstwerk (meaning ‘total artwork’), Musical Director, Lewis Wilkinson says, “No single element of the performance truly stands out. The orchestral music and singers’ voices blend well, supporting and augmenting each other.”

“And just as the singers have solos, so too do the instruments have solo sections.”

Operas are different from other types of theatrical productions because of the inclusion of music to go along with the actors’ performances. Due to how the orchestral music goes hand in hand with the singing, Phil Durrant and – who play leading roles Don Jose and Carmen, respectively – feel it is the music that leads their performances.

Durrant tells Indigo, “It is the orchestral music that is the master of the show, really. When I hear sad music play, for example, my performance and emotions will naturally follow suit.”

“I don’t find the music inhibits my performance, but instead it augments it.”

Smith Galer, agrees, adding that Bizet writes in motifs in the music to help in characterisation.

Both Don Jose and Carmen go through significant changes over the course of their performance – Durrant and Smith Galer say both their characters start out strong, but over time they show their weaknesses and begin to crumble.

Carmen starts out as this strong woman, but by the end her character breaks down and her vulnerabilities show. It’s this change that both the music and my voice portrays,” says Smith Galer.

Wilkinson will also be conducting the performance during the show itself, and it’s his job to ensure the entire performance – orchestra and singers – are coordinated. For instance, Wilkinson says percussion instruments are used for the Gypsies, trumpets for the soldiers, and horns for Micaela. He remarks that the audience should be attentive as, “There are a lot of little details – such as the motifs – that audiences might miss if they don’t listen out for it.”

And throughout the performance, he tells Indigo, there are also other musical motifs that build up, culminating in a climactic dramatic scene at the end.

DOE’s ‘Carmen’ will be in the Gala Theatre at 19:30 on Friday 12th February and Saturday 13th February. Book your tickets here

Photo Credit: Crispin Lord

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