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Fall in Love with Visalia Opera Company's Carmen

Oct 27, 2015 11:14AM ● By Brandi Barnett

Arrows Through the Heart

November 2015
By Fache Desrochers

What is it like to fall in love? Some people say it happens in the blink of an eye, like a strike of lightning. Others maintain that it creeps up slowly, more akin to the tide coming in. However fast you personally tumble, most people agree on one thing about falling in love: you know without a doubt when it happens to you. For centuries, the art of opera has brought audiences to their knees in supplication, and to their feet in adoration. But one opera in particular sends arrows consistently through the hearts of everyone from novice viewers to venerable enthusiasts, one opera that makes you fall in love, whether you are ready or not: Carmen.
“Carmen is particularly special to me because it’s the first opera I ever saw, and the one that really introduced me to what opera is,” says Rosalinda Verde, who would know a thing or two about the charms of the medium as the founder and executive director of the Visalia Opera Company. And Verde is not the only one with a soft spot for Carmen. The production has enjoyed generations of acclaim by critics and casual enthusiasts alike – not just for its well-known arias and exquisitely composed music, but because of the wily adventures of a main character so compelling that the title could be nothing other than
her name.
Set in Spain around 1820 and written by French composer Georges Bizet, Carmen is the story of a young and fiery gypsy girl whose strong will, seductive ways and beautifully untamed nature showers the worlds of those around her with a veritable storm of glamorous drama. Although Carmen has far stronger cultural and artistic legs to stand on, one can’t help but draw a comparison between this time-honored production and a certain more modern, soapier type of opera. But the drama and intrigue that characterizes this show seems to be the very reason why it has remained so popular, so mesmerizing, and so wonderfully accessible for so many. “We started an opera class at the Creative Center, and Carmen is the one that everyone is always the most intensely focused of,” says Verde. “Which is understandable, because the story is so intense itself. It’s the tale of a woman using her wiles to get her way, and get out of trouble. She’s very powerful, dominating, unpredictable and even fearsome.” When the audience first meets Carmen, she is singing to a crowd about the untamable nature of love. Just a scene or two later, the authorities are called because she has pulled a knife on another girl at the cigarette factory that employs her. “So she’s in a lot of trouble from the very get-go,” Verde says with a grin. “And I think it’s interesting to see how she gets herself woven into that trouble, and then out of it, and then back in it again, and what her fate is at the end of the story.”
Although the opera was written more than a century ago, the title character remains a force of nature and a formidably independent woman – even by today’s standards. “I think many women relate to her and admire her kind of power,” Verde says thoughtfully. “Carmen is a lot of things to a lot of people. Many women are compelled to tell me how they relate or how they don’t, and I’ve seen her played a lot of different ways. But for me, the takeaway has always been that Carmen is powerful, and Carmen is complex.”
Carmen premiers October 30 at café 210, and the Visalia Opera Company has envisioned a fully modern take on its presentation, which will include an exciting digital backdrop and narration by local actor and educator Susan Matthews. “I’m really excited about Susan’s narration because she’s an incredible performer, and I know she will really tie the story together for the audience,” says Verde. “And that really helps to make a longer opera like this one more condensed and accessible.”
It seems that when it comes to opera, Carmen is the eternal femme fatale of the genre; the woman in the red dress, the enchantress whose siren song is nothing short of irresistible. So if you are ready to fall in love with opera, Carmen is waiting for you, ready or not.

 Visalia Opera Company 559-802-3266
 Find them on Facebook
 Carmen show dates and location:
 Oct. 30-7pm; Nov. 1-2pm; Nov. 6-7pm; Nov. 8-2pm
 210 W. Center Street, Visalia
 Tickets: www.voccarmen.brownpapertickets