Vixen leads man to his death in sultry opera

In the opera world, there are many titles. But there’s only one “Carmen.”

The legendary, tragic love triangle, based in real events, has captivated audiences for two centuries.

Even so, the Augusta Opera is putting a new spin on things by producing a lesser-known treatment and adding some surprising stage elements.

Maestro Mark Flint explained that, in choosing “La Tragedie de Carmen,” the treatment conceived by legendary movie director Peter Brook, they return to the original story by Prosper Mérimée. This treatment, it is said, does for “Carmen” what film director Baz Luhrman did for “La Boheme.”

“When [Georges Bizet] adapted the opera, he had the censors looking over his shoulder,” Flint explained. As befitted French opera at that time, they thought that the story was too violent. Flint described the characters as earthy, “very close to guttural Spain.”

But Bizet defied even Camille du Locle, the artistic director of the Opéra-Comique who had commissioned him to produce the opera and, today, it is one of the world’s most popular. “Carmen” appears as No. 4 on Opera America’s list of the 20 most-performed operas in North America.

Although it is written in French, the story is set in Seville, Spain, in the 1830s and follows Carmen (Janara Kellerman), the fiery gypsy who is rather open with her amore (“L’amour est un oiseau rebelled”). She bewitches the young corporal Don Jose (“Près des remparts de Séville”), played by Robert Zimmerman, who is rumored to have killed a man in his home village. Ultimately Carmen falls for another, the bullfighter Escamillo (“Je vais danser en votre honneur”), as portrayed by Eric Greene. And that is where tragedy steps in.

“Because she is a gypsy, in the true meaning of the word, so she is ruled by fate,” Flint said. And every time Carmen checks her fortune, she draws the death card.

But Carmen is a lot of woman, the kind who lives life to the fullest no matter what she might believe is in her future. But she has the strength to face the probable outcome of her life sooner, rather than later. And she does so unflinchingly, which gives her dignity and grace.

“Her journey is that of acceptance,” Flint said. “She never attempts to turn from her fate.”

And that is a struggle that all humans face, no matter what name you give it: God, fate, fortune, providence or something else.

That story and the music composed to advance it are what have allowed “Carmen” to transcend the genre of opera and stretch into pop culture. It may be best known for “Les tringles des sisters tintaient,” which is commonly referred to as the Gypsy Song.

The story and the music have been adapted for the stage, the screen and even MTV, which put on a production with Beyoncé Knowles that they called a “hip-hopera.”

Kristin Sampson plays Micaela and local favorites Rich Belles and Isaac Holmes appear in the supporting roles of Zuniga and Garcia. The stage direction is by a returning friend of the Opera, Dean Anthony, and is conducted by Flint.

‘La Tragedie de Carmen’
Imperial Theatre
Friday, March 21, 8 p.m.
Saturday, March 22, 8 p.m.
706-826-4710
augustaopera.com

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