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Carmen for all tastes from Barefoot Opera

There are two more chances to see Barefoot Opera’s dazzling production of Georges Bizet’s Carmen in Hastings – either this Friday at St Mary in the Castle or, if a shortened version is more up your street, at the Source Park on Sunday 30. Director Jenny Miller talks to HOT’s Nick Terdre. Photos by Chris Parker.

If you think that opera is stuffy and old-fashioned, Barefoot Opera invite you to think again. Their aim is to bring the emotions expressed in the music and the story alive, providing a meaningful experience both for those unaccustomed to operatic convention as well as for the buffs.

The approach works – as Jenny says: “People who didn’t like opera came to a BareFoot show and discovered they had a great time, that it changed their feelings about what opera means.”

Carmen is among the more performed operas, but Jenny makes no apologies for the choice of this passionate love story that ends in tragedy. “It’s a brilliant opera, written in blood, it’s just brimming with life and vitality,” she says.

The production itself is well and truly in the round. At St Mary’s the action takes place on a small platform in the centre of the auditorium, right beneath the dome, while the stage is given over to choir stalls for the audience, kindly lent by Hastings Philharmonic.

bf3The opera is sung in the original French, with English subtitles visible from all parts. The music is played by Barefoot’s signature quartet, consisting of keyboard, free-base accordion, clarinet and double bass.

Opera at the Source Park

In a new departure, a one-hour version – Crazy Carmen – will be performed in the Source Park, the home of skateboarding and BMX riding. “It’s the venue that’s crazy really,” Jenny says. “And we feel that the vibe of buying drinks and wandering around the balcony watching the action should give the whole thing a different feel. We are very much hoping to recruit some bikers!

“Instead of subtitles I’ll be acting as an old sooth-saying gypsy, narrating the story in a theatrical way. Perhaps because of the huge wooden bowls that form the landscape of the building, the acoustics in the Source Park are incredibly good.”

The company will also take the opera on tour. Since the first performance at St Mary’s earlier this month, it has already been shown in Shoreham and has other dates arranged in Oxford and at the Wooburn Festival in the Chilterns, as well as two performances in London.

Carmen is not only a very popular opera, but, as Jenny points out, incredibly adaptable. And that makes it appropriate for the training of young singers, which is also a key plank in the Barefoot philosophy.

“We work with singers across the board, with community choirs, with children, but particularly we work with young singers who want to take singing very seriously as a career,” Jenny says.

“Carmen is really useful for Barefoot Opera because it means that we can get an ensemble of young singers really working together, learning real tools for their trade, singing in French. We want them to develop an open-minded, flexible approach to their work so that they are fully rounded performing singers.”

bf2Moving force

Jenny was one of the moving forces when the initiative that became Barefoot Opera was launched a dozen years ago. “I just got some like-minded people together and we ran some courses. Gradually we started to formulate more of a philosophy and we officially became Barefoot Opera six years ago.”

Meanwhile another ambitious project is under way with the aim of drawing in people who don’t normally get involved in opera. The working title is A Town. “This is a new commission about life in a seaside resort, not so far away from here!” Jenny says. “It won’t be specifically Hastings but it will be very inspired by Hastings people and Hastings stories.”

Workshops were held earlier this year, both for choirs and individuals interested in singing, and to cull ideas for the opera, which will be written by composer Orlando Gough and dramatist Stephen Plaice, both very well known in this field.

bf4The De La Warr Pavilion is a partner in the project, and will host a platform performance of an extract next spring. This will be an important milestone in the development of the work, giving the audience, performers and everyone involved the chance to provide input and feedback to the creative team.

Coming back to Carmen, Jenny says she received lots of great feedback from the audience after the first performance. “Someone wrote to me: ‘We were there and loved it, brilliant staging in the round, beautiful singing, especially the leading women, and the band was a true revelation.’”


Carmen by Georges Bizet Friday 21 September, 7.30pm, St Mary in the Castle, 7 Pelham Crescent, Hastings TN34 3AF.  Tickets £17-22, £23 on the door, under 13s £10, from Barefoot Opera.

Crazy Carmen Sunday 30 September, 7pm, Source Park, White Rock, Hastings TN34 1JA. Tickets £10 from Barefoot Opera.

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Posted 14:47 Tuesday, Sep 18, 2018 In: Music & Sound

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