Classically Speaking / CARMEN and June in Buffalo
Favorite returns and new music arrives
Tamara Gura plays CARMEN in the BPO’s concert version, which focuses on the music and the mood.
Photos courtesy of the artist
Carmen in Concert
Kleinhans, 1 Symphony Circle.
The opera Brahms was addicted to
Generally regarded as the most popular opera ever written, Carmen enjoys a new concert production by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus this month at Kleinhans. Written by Georges Bizet, premiering in Paris in 1875, and appearing in Vienna later that year, Carmen tells the story of a ravishing gypsy and the men she captivated. One of those men was the real-life Johannes Brahms, who was so enamored by the opera’s melodic riches and the irresistibly strong and sexy allure of Carmen that he returned to the Vienna production at least twenty times.
Why a concert of an opera?
“Buffalo and Western New York are filled with opera lovers, but we haven’t had an opera company that’s been stable and continuous, and I talk to people all the time who love opera,” says BPO music director JoAnn Falletta. “The challenge we’ve always had is that our stage at Kleinhans is rather shallow, because the hall was really built for orchestra music. There’s nothing like Kleinhans for acoustical sound, but it doesn’t allow much room on the stage.
“So, I said, ‘Let’s try something. Let’s do perhaps the most beloved opera, Carmen.’ Even people who think they don’t like opera love Carmen. It’s timeless music. And, the only way we could do it was with a kind of concert version. We’re doing it in a very special way in which all of the arias, choruses, and duets, written in French, are sung in French. But the connecting tissue, the dialogue, is actually going to be spoken in English. It’s been done many times before, and it can almost be conceived as a piece of musical theater. All of this great music needs to be in the French language; that’s how it was conceived, that’s how it was written, and that’s how it works. So, it’s going to be an interesting hybrid.
“To make up for the fact that we don’t have room for true scenery, we’re devising kind of an experimental way of projecting images on a screen with lighting effects. There’ll be a screen with projected images that will help people realize that they’re in the bullring watching a bullfight or hiding out in the tavern when Carmen is singing her famous aria. It’s going to require some imagination but I think it will be very possible for people to feel a sense of place and atmosphere.”
A two-and-a-half-hour opera focused on the music
“The other thing is that with the spoken dialogue, we can actually have an opera in under two and a half hours,” continues Falletta. “We’re not cutting any of the music, just the recitative sections. There’s nothing more powerful than grand opera where you see magnificent scenery because of the space they have and the kind of machinery they have. That is really extraordinary. But somehow reducing it to really the music and the mood, setting the stage and the mood, actually brings the music more to the fore. You’re focusing on what this great music sounds like.
“We have a great cast and one of the things I’m excited about is that several people are native to central New York or Buffalo and have studied at SUNY Fredonia in their extraordinary opera department. It’s quite exciting for us to be able to find local stars, starting with the tenor Kyle van Schoonhoven, who won the Met audition. We invited him to sing with us in a small program and he was a wild success, and he happened to say to me, ‘You know, my real role is Don Jose.’ And I said, ‘OK, Kyle, you’re on.’ He’s one of six people who are either natives or studied here. The cast will be in costumes, and they’re not just going to stand there and sing. They will be acting and reacting to each other, just not with the grand scenery and props. We’ll see how this experiment works.”
Dal Niente is dedicated to the performance of new and experimental chamber music. They are performing at June in Buffalo.
More experimental pleasures at June in Buffalo
University at Buffalo North campus
Experimental, avant-garde, contemporary classical, call it what you will, June in Buffalo is dedicated to exciting new music, much of it written by a core of prominent contemporary composers who are in residence at the University at Buffalo during the festival, which runs June 3–9. In addition to concerts, the festival presents seminars, lectures, workshops, forums, and open rehearsals. Compositions from each of the six invited composers are performed by six resident ensembles during the week of June in Buffalo. Concerts are held each afternoon or evening at Baird Recital Hall and Lippes Concert Hall on UB’s North Campus. The resident composers are Anna Clyne, David Felder, Brian Ferneyhough, Stephen Hartke, Lei Liang, and Rolf Wallin.
Six ensembles and one special guest
Slee Sinfonietta, a professional chamber orchestra in permanent residence at UB, opens the festival with performances on Monday and Tuesday. Founded by composer and June in Buffalo director David Felder, the orchestra is dedicated to the performance of contemporary works and comprises faculty members, professional artists, and advanced performance students.
Monday also features a not-to-be-missed performance by the Holmertz-Karlsson Duo, starring Swedish soprano Elisabeth Holmertz and Swedish pianist Kenneth Karlsson.
Wednesday brings an afternoon concert by Ensemble Signal, a New York-based group of varying instrumentation dedicated to contemporary compositions, especially those of Steve Reich. And, that evening, there’s a performance by Mivos Quartet, a prestigious prize-winning ensemble that one critic described as “one of America’s most daring and ferocious new-music ensembles.”
On Thursday afternoon and Friday evening, Ensemble Dal Niente presents works by festival participant composers. Dal Niente is a Chicago-based national and international touring ensemble dedicated to the performance of new and experimental chamber music, winning wide acclaim throughout the world of serious contemporary music. Friday’s Dal Niente concert presents works by four of the festival’s six resident composers. British violinist Irvine Arditti, the festival’s special guest and the inspiration for many solo violin works, appears on Thursday evening, and Mivos Quartet returns on Friday afternoon.
Ensemble Signal returns for a Saturday evening concert, playing works by Anna Clyne, Lei Liang, and Rolf Wallin. Sunday afternoon belongs to the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra playing compositions by three senior festival composers including a new work, Die Dämmerungen, by David Felder.
For all June in Buffalo venues and concert times, visit music21c.buffalo.edu/june-in-buffalo/concert-schedule.