Carmen vs. La tragédie de Carmen : Shorter Does Not Equal Easier.

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La tragédie de Carmen score- Peter Brook

Hello Everyone! This fall I have been deep in the throws of preparing the role of Carmen in La tragédie de Carmen. I am singing this role as a guest artist in the University of Minnesota’s  Opera Theater this November. It has been a whirlwind of a process. I have never done a full role outside of the comfort and safety of my Alma mater, and even with leading roles at the University of Northern Iowa, I have never worked on a role this large.  The Bizet 3.5 hour full length version of this opera is a beast. It is a grand production to say the least. The abridged version by Peter Brook is a shorter 1.5 hour show. When putting a student production together the shorter version might seem best… at the beginning. It takes out the ensemble numbers, which is kind of a bummer for the people who aren’t cast as principles. The ensembles are a lot of fun and get more students involved, but if numbers aren’t high, it is an option that could benefit your production. It also takes out a couple of the smaller roles, which is another consideration when casting. The orchestra is cut down to a sixteen piece chamber group, which is another more manageable choice, depending on your forces. All of this, so far, lends itself well to a school production or a more intimate and simple professional production of the show.

So… you cut out all the ensembles and keep in most of the principle singing… do you know that that means for Carmen??? That means Carmen sings almost non stop for much of the show. During the first half of the show, she leaves the stage for one (1 minute) scene change and almost never stops singing while onstage. This role is a singer’s dream and nightmare all at once! While thrilled to be the title role of a show and get to perform such an amazing character (I will delve into Carmen’s character another time), it is tough. Carmen has three arias, all of which hold challenges, and her other singing is just as active. It is aerobic and requires stamina and precision. Kudos to every one who has ever performed this role! I am not perfect in any of these areas. All I can do is strive to be the best I can be in every moment I work on this show.

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Opera on Tap performance of Carmen’s Card Aria in preparation for the upcoming show!

So how will I get to the finish line? I use each rehearsal like training for a marathon. This particular production is triple cast, which means I only get 3-5 hours of personal, physical  rehearsal time each week. I can observe other casts during their rehearsal time, but physically I get to rehearse only a few hours a week. Training for a marathon is intense; it requires work and practice getting your body ready to run the race. To prep for this show physically, I make sure to mark (singing lightly, not in full voice) as little as possible. I need to make sure my voice can get through this music, in time, while moving around the stage. I make sure to give as much as I can in this regard at each rehearsal. I practice while moving around the house at home. I mime as much of the blocking as I can, getting the movements in my body, allowing , myself to get used to all the energy it requires. I attend other cast rehearsals so I can see things from the outside- watch what works and what doesn’t work, let things soak in that I may not comprehend while physically rehearsing. Lastly (but just as important!), I take time off when needed. Your brain and body can only handle so much, and stepping aside to give yourself mental and physical breaks is necessary.

It has been such a learning experience working on this show, and I am so excited to see how it turns out a month from now! Stay tuned for more updates as it gets closer to show time!

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