Brott Music Festival has been performing staged Opera and PopOpera productions since 2004 as part of their nine-week summer festival, BrottOpera was officially founded on January 13th, 2014. The artistic mission of BrottOpera is to be the destination performing opera organization that entertains, educates and enriches Hamilton and its environs to be driven by both traditional and cutting-edge opera programming, grassroots partnerships which will stimulate new audiences and partner with other community organizations.
Following two successful years BrottOpera is now entering its third season. Each year has consisted of a PopOpera – an evening of favourite opera arias – as well as a fully staged opera; the past two seasons have seen performances of Rossini’s Barber of Seville and Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. This year will again include a PopOpera (July 6th) as well as a production of Bizet’s Carmen (July 13th) directed by Patrick Hansen, who is currently the Director of Opera Studies at the Schulich School of Music of McGill University in Montreal, Quebec.
Set in Seville around the year 1830, the opera deals with the love and jealousy of Don José, who is lured away from his duty as a soldier and his beloved Micaëla by the gypsy factory-girl Carmen, whom he allows to escape from custody. He is later induced to join the smugglers with whom Carmen is associated, but is driven wild by jealousy. This comes to a head when Carmen makes clear her preference for the bull-fighter Escamillo. The last act, outside the bull-ring in Seville, brings Escamillo to the arena, accompanied by Carmen, there stabbed to death by Don José, who has been awaiting her arrival.
Carmen was a one-of-a-kind outlier of an opera when it was written. It shocked the French audiences with its onstage violence. It was also not an actual "opera" per se, because its form was really that of a musical: the story is told in both dialogue and in music. Formally much of it is Italian grand opera, but it is sung in French, set in Spain, and some of the music is based on Cuban dance rhythms (the Habanero, for example). Very advanced for its time! “It is the best example of "verismo" opera I can think of until Puccini comes along with La bohème or Leoncavallo's Pagliacci” says director Patrick Hansen.
This Carmen will be set in the 1930s Spanish Civil War - a war Franco eventually won. Carmen's story will be told through that lens of war, rebellion, the quest for freedom against oppression -- the very things that Carmen is all about! Carmen herself is 100% rebel; she fights against the status quo, she fights to be taken seriously as an individual and not just some gypsy who works in a cigarette factory, she smuggles arms for the war, she loves who she wants and when she wants. She and her gypsy friends are smugglers fighting in the resistance to overthrow the political structure in place and defend themselves against the coming Franco oppression. Oppression is everywhere in the opera. Don Jose, Morales, and Zuniga are all soldiers in the regime who simultaneously oppress the people but also want to be part of their culture (namely enjoying themselves at Lilas Pastia's place and the Bull Ring). Micaela represents the oppression that arises from the religious patriarchy -- (come home and marry a good girl, have a family, and forget everything else.) Escamillo represents the machismo oppression found throughout the culture. Carmen and her fellow gypsies represent freedom and liberty and superstition. Carmen's final outburst at the end of the opera sums it up well: she lives free and she will die free!
“As the stage director, I'll be looking for ways to show the oppression throughout the show, trying to bring out some of the more entertaining aspects of the show (to hit the tragedy at the end a little harder), and making sure the story gets told as clearly as possible. The update alters little, if anything, to the story -- it mostly changes props and weapons. Instead of swords and daggers we will use rifles, pistols and switchblades. Instead of smuggling contraband, the gypsies will be smuggling weapons. The other, oft-overlooked, aspect of Carmen is her belief in destiny and the tarot. This is integral to her belief system and I'll be striving to make it more a part of the story throughout the opera”.
In addition to the performances, BrottOpera is a two-week program with a very heavy schedule for our emerging professional opera singers, which includes master-classes by some of opera’s top stars: tenor Richard Margison (July 4th 10am-12:30pm) and soprano Adrianne Pieczonka (July 9th 2pm-5pm). These masterclasses are free to the public and will be held at St. John the Evangelist Church (320 Charlton Ave W) in the heart of Hamilton.
“Very much looking forward to the Carmen production. We have a spectacular cast of first rate soloists chosen from 222 eager applicants. 10 of our best professional stars” says Boris Brott. “You have a chance to get to know each of them individually singing their best chosen solo arias from different repertoire in our PopOpera program July 6 and then in their roles in Carmen July 13. Patrick Hansen is a brilliant director - we have worked together before at Opera McGill. He is imaginative and has a dramatic concept for Carmen which will delight you. Opera brings it all together - orchestra, chorus, lighting, costumes, sets, and you the audience- don’t miss it!”