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Barefoot Opera previewed Carmen at St Leonards Festival Opera Garden Party in July (photo: Runa Park,

The barefoot gypsy in me

There’s something dark and savage in our blood which will out! Barefoot Opera Young Artists Tour, with its strong production values and demanding, genuinely educational rehearsal structure, will tour a nine-singer Carmen this year.  In keeping with its style, the singers learn to be both soloists and ensemble players, and are accompanied by a gypsy band of keyboard, accordion, clarinet and double-bass, writes HOT’s Chris Cormack.

Barefoot Opera's taster at St Leonards Festival Opera Garden Party (photo: Runa Park).

Many people attended the wonderful  St Leonards Festival Opera Garden Party on that beautiful sunny day in July and will remember the captivating performances by Barefoot Opera which previewed this production of Carmen. The director, Jenny Miller, introduced those famous arias with an expressive narrative which mirrors the techniques of opéra comique with its spoken dialogue interspersed among the singing. This production will be sung in French with English sur-titles and the dialogue spoken in English.

Set in 1820s Seville, Bizet’s Carmen tells of the seductive powers of the sultry Carmen on the leader of the brigade, Don José, through the magic of a gypsy flower and the tragic consequences of her fickleness as Don José deserts his duty to throw in his lot with Carmen’s Gypsy smuggler friends, only to find she has lost interest in him.

Carmen includes some of opera’s best-loved arias, the Habanera, the Toreador’s song, the Flower song and more from the brilliant young soloists still training to be the stars of tomorrow. The cast is headed by Cathy Bell as Carmen, Clement Heatherington as Don Jose, Rebecca Laurent as Michaela and James Schouten as Escamillo. Laurence Panter and Oscar Dom Victor Castellino are the nefarious smugglers, Remendal and Dancairo. Lucilla Graham and Charlotte North are Carmen’s wild gypsy accomplices. Joining the Hastings performance will be a young singers chorus from Claremont School. These children have done wonders and managed to greatly impress when they took part in a performance of Carmina Burana at St Clement’s Church in the Old Town.

Barefoot Opera at St Leonards Festival Opera Garden Party (photo: Runa Park).

Barefoot Opera likes breaking down the traditional barriers between musicians and singers, and this production is no exception, as the band merges in with the ensemble. An outstanding professional clarinettist, Andrew Sparling, doubles as an excellent singer and takes the role of Morales. Bizet’s score is reinterpreted by a gypsy band, including piano, free-base accordion, double bass and clarinet.  The band are right in the heart of the action on stage and are characters along with the excellent cast of young professional singers. Hearing this music as a chamber opera gives us a new perception of Bizet’s brilliant word-setting, as does listening to the nine outstanding young soloists.

Musical direction is by Lesley Anne Sammons, and Jenny Miller stage-directs, assisted by Rebecca Hanbury. Fully staged and costumed, the costumes are by Finola Woolgar, a precious local talent lately graduated from the prestigious Wimbledon School of Art.

The tour will take the ensemble to St Mary in the Castle in Hastings on Saturday 13 September, Norden Farm Arts Centre, Maidenhead, on Thursday 18 September, Wooburn Festival on Thursday 2 October and St Leonard’s Shoreditch, London, on Friday 3 October.

Carmen by Bizet. St Mary in the Castle, 7 Pelham Crescent, Hastings, TN34 3AF,  7.30pm, Saturday 13 September.  Early purchase concession £12. Prices on the door £15 and £13 for seniors over 65 and under 16s. Tickets online at St Mary in the Castle, at Shimizu Flowers, 22a High Street, Old Town, and Who’s Wearing What boutique, 34 London Road, St Leonards-on-Sea (correct money or cheques please). You can also phone 07814 87 39 68 and leave a message.

Posted 12:08 Sunday, Sep 7, 2014 In: Music & Sound

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