Georges Bizet's classic "Carmen" is one of the most popular operas in the repertoire. The classic love story has been produced countless times, but the upcoming Atlanta Opera production at the Cobb Energy Centre nonetheless represents significant firsts for some primary members of its cast and crew.
"The music in it is amazing, and it covers such a wide variety of emotional moments," says director Brenna Corner of the work's enduring appeal. Corner is currently participating in the Atlanta Opera's Studio Artist program, which develops the careers of young, emerging opera artists. The upcoming production of "Carmen" represents the first time she's directed a production this large for a major company.
Corner is in her second year in the Atlanta Opera program. She's acted as assistant director on the majority of productions over the past two years, including "The Flying Dutchman,""Don Pasquale" and "Out of Darkness." "I've had the good fortune to learn from the amazing staff here and from all the guest directors we've brought in," she says. "I've learned how you work with and manage a giant cast. In 'Turandot,' we had 60 choristers. That's been really educational. Now I get a chance to put all the things I've learned into practice."
Modern audiences still respond to “Carmen” because of its famous music and because of its timeless story, Corner says, so it makes a perfect opera to take on early in a director’s career. “Carmen” tells the story of a seductive gypsy who sets her sights on a naive but passionate young corporal. The “Habanera” from Act 1 and the “Toreador Song” from Act 2 are among the best known of all operatic arias.
“It’s wonderful for me because it’s always been one of my favorite pieces,” she says. “The story is about the consequences of love. … We have the fascinating struggle between the bohemian, liberated, free life and the establishment, the regimented world of the soldiers, that’s invading the story throughout. … And so many of the pieces have become prevalent in our world. One of the reasons is just the way Bizet wrote the music; it gets into your ear and into your brain and into your soul and really affects you.”
Corner says that after finishing the Atlanta Opera Studio Artist program, she hopes to continue directing opera in new ways, in inventive spaces and with new stagings, something she previously explored with the small, independent opera company she runs in Vancouver, Canada.
“One of the things I love about this company is that I’m a young woman director, and they still entrusted this production to me,” she says of the field, which still tends to be dominated by men. “It’s not something that would necessarily happen in other places. The world is starting to change, but it’s not a quick change.”
"The challenge is to show the double nature of Don José," says Terranova, who has made a number of significant role debuts in his career with the Atlanta Opera, including as Calaf in last year's "Turandot" and as Rodolfo in 2015's "La Bohème." He says the role of Don José, a good man who turns to violence, is an especially difficult one. "Don José is attracted to Carmen, but he has a girlfriend, a mother, respectability. He is not a gypsy. This is my challenge, to make the public understand everything."
Terranova says the enduring appeal of the work keeps it seeming fresh to modern audiences. “The greatest theatrical works have something audiences can feel in every age,” he says. “We still have to choose which way we want to go in our lives. Which kind of love will we follow? The greatest theatrical works leave you with a lot of questions. For that, ‘Carmen’ will always remain modern and fresh.”
Terranova adds that he’s especially glad to be working with Corner. “Brenna is young but she has a lot of very interesting ideas,” he says. “It’s good to work with her because she has a lot of clear ideas, but she is open to questions of the artists. She has a lot of respect for the cast. She is open to change and doing things together with the artist. For an artist like me debuting a role, she is a perfect director.”
The Atlanta Opera presents Bizet’s “Carmen”
8 p.m. April 28; 7:30 p.m. May 1; 8 p.m. May 4; and 3 p.m. May 6. $50-$156. Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, 2800 Cobb Galleria Parkway, Atlanta. 404-881-8885, www.atlantaopera.org.