Join Festival of Music for ‘Carmen’

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Natchez Festival of Music comes to a dramatic close May 28 with one of opera’s most famous and enduring operas — “Carmen” by Georges Bizet. Whether you are an opera aficionado, buff or an opera neophyte, it is highly likely that you are already familiar with some of the melodies from “Carmen”. I remember vividly when I was young, that famous gasoline additive STP and its use of the Toreador song. Little did I know that in 2016, I would be privileged to direct three separate productions of “Carmen.”

My collaboration with music director Dr. Jay Dean has been a fruitful one these past months. This Natchez production, being the culmination, in my opinion, is also the most musically and dramatically satisfying of the three. Talented singing artists from across the country — California, Chicago, New Jersey, Florida and many more locales — have converged upon Natchez to join forces in this tale of love, jealousy and murder. Yes, “Carmen” has something for everyone: soaring melodies such as José’s Flower song, seductive arias like Carmen’s Habanera and Seguidilla and rousing themes like Escamillo’s Toreador song. Set in Seville, Spain, “Carmen” is the story of a fiery gypsy girl who falls in love with a soldier, Don José, a man of questionable reputation. José has promised his mother that he will wed his childhood sweetheart, Micaëla, but destiny has other plans for him. He is brought face to face with Carmen, who, in typical hot-blooded fashion, has been arrested for fighting. Carmen entices him to help her escape, and José cannot resist. After two months in jail, José finally returns to his love. Their brief time together is fraught with passion and intense jealousy. José joins a group of smugglers to be with Carmen, but their relationship is further torn asunder by the most famous bullfighter in Spain — Escamillo. José learns of the impending death of his mother and leaves the band of smugglers, but not before warning Carmen that he will return. The scene is at once ominous and frightening. They do eventually meet again, on the day of the bullfight. Their encounter has tragic results for both of them.

The Natchez production is fortunate to have so many fine singers in this opera. Our lead is the mezzo-soprano Nora Graham-Smith. She brings an innate understanding to the role, both vocally and dramatically. Opposite her is the tenor, Christopher Nelson, who is singing his first Don José. I have had a great deal of pleasure directing these two as they are hungry, passionate and talented artists —always striving for more. Our Toreador is baritone Joseph Flaxman, who truly embodies the role. It is completely understandable why Carmen would leave José for this man. Our conductor is Dr. Jay Dean, who many of you already know from his six seasons with the Natchez Festival of Music. Finally, my name is Joseph Levitt, the stage director. It has been my distinct pleasure to be part of this terrific festival and I hope that you, our patrons, will derive as much pleasure from “Carmen” as I have had directing it. See you at the opera.

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“Carmen” will be at 7 p.m. May 28 at the Natchez Performing Arts Center. Cash bar refreshments will be available beginning at 6 p.m. in The Grape Escape Club Room. Admission is $40 and $10 for students K-12, adult with K-12 student, college students and active military with current ID.

Other events this week include Vasti Jackson, “The Soul of Jimmie Rodgers” at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Bowie’s Tavern. Admission is $7. On Wednesday, the owners of Choctaw Hall will host a recital honoring Ruby Elzy, the jewel of Mississippi, a soprano who rose from poverty and prejudice to become one of the most acclaimed singers of her generation. Two shows are scheduled at 7 and 8:30 p.m. On Thursday, performances of “A Tribute to Gone With the Wind” starring Erin Shields, soprano, and David Shenton, piano, will be at 7 and 8:30 p.m. at Stanton Hall. Admission is $40.

The festival will recognize the Spanish heritage of Natchez this weekend with “Serenata — An Evening in Old Spanish Natchez Friday, May 27. A Spanish street party including Spanish wine, tapas, live Spanish music and a tour of two fabulous homes in the Old Spanish Quarter of Natchez — Governor Holmes House and Texada Wall Street. Tours begin at 6 p.m, other activities at 7 p.m. The cost is $75 and $40 without tours.

For tickets to all events, please visit, the Natchez Visitor Reception Center or telephone 1-800-647-6742. Tickets are also available at the door for all events. There will be a cash bar at each event.

Come for the music, stay for the experience.


Joseph Levitt is the stage director of the Natchez Festival of Music’s production of “Carmen.”