Classic ‘Carmen’ offersWritten by Joel Sensenig | Managing Editor | firstname.lastname@example.org
Although Adam Klein is busy preparing for the first show of Toledo Opera’s upcoming production of “Carmen,” he is hardly a stranger to the Italian femme fatale this masterpiece is named for.
The renowned tenor will make his 56th, 57th and 58th appearances as Don Jose, the lovelorn object of the exotic Carmen’s seduction in the 1875 French opera, when the Toledo Opera opens its 2007-08 season with the production Nov. 3, Nov. 9 and Nov. 11 at the Valentine Theatre.
Klein, who worked with the Toledo Opera several years ago in its opera gala “Three Tenors: The Next Generation,” has credits in a variety of highly respected venues, including the Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera and New York City Opera.
For the past several weeks, he’s spent up to six hours a day, six days a week working with director Lawrence Edelson to re-perfect the role he’s performed dozens of times previously.
Despite the ever-growing number of performances as male lead Don Jose, it doesn’t appear he’ll grow weary of the role any time soon, which he attributes to the widespread appeal of the opera.
“The first time you see it, you’ll be taken in by some part of it — the Spanish flavor, the dancing, the blood and guts, or the great singing — and the next time you see it, something else will occur to you because there’s just so much there,” Klein said. “For those seeing an opera (“Carmen”) for the first time, I tell them, ‘You picked a really good one to see first.’ ”
Renay Conlin, general director of Toledo Opera, was very familiar with the well-rounded Klein before hiring him for the local production of Georges Bizet’s “Carmen.” Her husband, Grammy Award winner Thomas Conlin, is the principal conductor for the
Toledo Opera and he worked with Klein when he was conducting the West Virginia Symphony.
“I love Adam’s voice and he can do anything he wants with it in the service of the music and the drama, which I love,” she said prior to a Saturday afternoon rehearsal in the opera group’s sixth-floor space in the old Secor Building on Jefferson Avenue. “He’s a consummate musician. When he sings, it just makes perfect musical sense. And then he’s a great actor. Adam’s one of those singers that has it all that we as general directors are always looking for — the elusive perfect singer.”
Klein’s “complete package” status is a large part of his appeal, Conlin said.
“More is expected of an opera singer than in any other performing field, because you have to act and sing and wear costumes, and coordinate with an orchestra and memorize it and sing in a foreign language,” she said. “The expectations are exceedingly high.”
Sex and the opera
Before a singer can meet an audience’s expectations, he or she must first get them in the door.
While Conlin said Toledo is as much an “opera town” as any other city, she admits the centuries-old form of entertainment is constantly battling an image problem.
“I think that opera, unfortunately, just the word, seems to conjure up a lot of baggage in most people’s minds,” she said. “Usually, it’s all based on assumption, because most people who say they don’t like opera have never been. They have no idea what it actually is. … if people have never been, they’re very hesitant to try it.”
Klein said a solid opera performance can be as exhilarating as any rock ‘n’ roll show.
“When it all comes together and it all works, there’s nothing like it — not even a rock concert with a light show is like opera,” he said.
Conlin said simultaneous translations (“Carmen” is sung in French, along with English translations projected above the stage) have helped audiences to grasp the stories being told — stories which may have surprisingly familiar plots to today’s audiences.
“I always say that opera is just like ‘Sex and the City,’ but we sing,” Conlin said with a laugh. “There’s a reason they call them soap operas, because they steal our stories.”
More than 132 years after its premiere in Paris, the parallels between “Carmen” and the modern soap opera are hard to miss.
The sultry title character, played in Toledo by mezzo-soprano Audrey Babcock, has a way of captivating every man she encounters in Seville, Spain, including Corporal Don Jose. Like any good soap opera diva, Carmen eventually loses interest in the still-smitten Jose, moving on to the waiting arms of the toreador Escamillo.
Much drama ensues.
Part of what makes “Carmen” so relatable today is that it was so ahead of its time in the late 19th century, Conlin said.
“Here you have, maybe for the first time, this powerful female character, which would go against everything that would have been taking place in France at that time,” she said. “So you have this sexually powerful female figure in the opera. It was really shocking in its day.”
For those not enticed by the scandalous love story component of the opera, there is the more macho side of things.
“We’re going to have some really scary-looking fights, between two women and between two men,” Klein said. “We’re not doing a boring, traditional version. We have a director who’s really interested in making it really down and dirty. I think we’re going to have some really exciting stuff happening on stage to complement the part that you can’t kill, which is the music.”
Ticket prices for “Carmen” begin at $25 and may be purchased at www.toledoopera.org or by calling (419) 255-SING.