One word says it all for festival finale

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Malena Dayen has seen “Carmen” performed many times. She has heard other women sing the part of Carmen, and, she said, each time it sounds different.

The words are the same and the music is the same, but Saturday when Dayen takes the stage in the Natchez Festival of Music production of the opera “Carmen” she said it is likely her version of Carmen will be unique as well.

“Because each person who performs as Carmen puts their own background and emotions and experiences into the performance, it is always special,” Dayen said.

Email newsletter signup

Originally from Argentina, Dayen is performing for the first time as part of Natchez’s annual music festival. She will play opposite David Guzman, originally from Columbia, who is portraying the role of Don Jose, a corporal in the Spanish army.

In the opera, Carmen and Jose first meet in the square in Seville. Carmen is a gypsy and as she entertains the crowds in the square, she notices Jose. Jose catches her eye by ignoring her and Carmen tosses him a flower

The two meet again after a fight between several women breaks out. Jose carries Carmen out of the fight but soon learns that Carmen was guilty of hitting another woman. Carmen is thrown into prison for her role in the fight, but is able to convince Jose to release her.

However, Jose is imprisoned for his role in Carmen’s earlier release. The two meet several times throughout the four act opera but aren’t together for very long.

Carmen falls in love with Escamillo, a successful toreador, and when Jose cannot convince Carmen to leave with him and start a new life, he takes desperate action.

The story is classic, which is why stage director Richard Estes said audiences have flocked to see the opera for so many years.

“It is consistently one of the top two operas performed in the United States,” he said. “There are many things in it that are universal to all people.”

But one thing that is now universal to all performances of Carmen is the short time in which the performers have to work together before taking the stage for the festival performance.

By the time, the cast steps on stage Saturday, they will have had about two weeks to work together. But Estes said that fact won’t be apparent to anyone watching.

“The opportunity to work with singers the caliber of these is heaven,” Estes said. “They are just outrageously talented and wonderful colleagues. Everyone is professional and came prepared to work and perform.

“Performing an opera the caliber of ‘Carmen,’ in this time, would not be possible without that.”

Guzman said it is only fitting that the performers in “Carmen” would be top notch. He said that is what it takes to make the a success.

“‘Carmen’ is a beautiful opera and to work with these people who are so talented is just amazing,” he said. “This is a beautiful place and working with talented people, I’m in heaven.”

While the vocal performances might not have been effected by the short time frame, at least some aspects of Carmen had to be adapted before going on stage in Natchez.

The four act opera is generally performed in front of large elaborate sets, but that just wasn’t possible for this performance Estes said.

“There wouldn’t be anywhere to store them in the building,” he said.

So instead, the four distinct settings will appear on stage all at the same time. But, Estes said focusing on the right setting, will not be a problem for the audience.

“The vocal performances are so strong. That is where all the focus will be,” Estes said.

The vocal excellence isn’t limited to just the lead characters.

“In ‘Carmen’ the chorus is just as important as the leads,” Dayen said. “They are really the ones that make this sound like a big performance.”

Estes said the talent of the chorus is a testament to the quality talent that comes to Natchez.

“All the members of the chorus are soloist quality,” he said. “We could take these people anywhere in the world and it would be one of the best.”