Conductor Keitaro Harada kept one eye on the stage and one on the pit Wednesday night at Tucson Music Hall.

It was his first full orchestra dress rehearsal with the Arizona Opera cast performing Bizet’s “Carmen,” which the opera will perform twice this weekend. He was looking for missteps — a flat note here, a dropped French enunciation there. Little things that if caught early won’t run the risk of growing into noticeable flubs once the cast does it for real Saturday, Jan. 30, and Sunday, Jan. 31.

The orchestra, from our spot in the audience of a dozen or so, sounded spot-on under Harada’s baton. Harada, the Arizona Opera associate conductor, coaxed a richness in Bizet’s score that reminded you of why “Carmen” is ranked as one of the world’s most beloved operas.

Harada invited the Star to the closed rehearsal, affording us a glimpse at what goes on before the house lights go down for Saturday’s opening. We sat right behind the maestro with a clear view of the orchestra, most its members dressed casually in jeans. It’s an interesting seat and not just for the view of the open pit. The orchestra from this point in the hall can sometimes create a wall of sound that under lesser voices would diminish the singing.

But that was hardly a problem during Wednesday’s dress rehearsal. You could hear mezzo-soprano Beth Lytwynec, who sings the role of Carmen on Sunday, well into the hall where fellow Carmen star Daniela Mack was watching the rehearsal play out.

During an especially saucy scene in which tenor Scott Quinn — Sunday’s Don Jose — had Carmen draped over a table and is kissing and touching her, a group of boys from the Tucson Arizona Boys Chorus sat backstage chattering as boys are known to do.

This is a sexually-charged “Carmen” with love scenes that include Don Jose caressing Carmen and her entourage of fellow seductresses Frasquita and Mercédès (Alyssa Martin and Amy Mahoney) straddling a chair and hiking up their skirts to show bare legs.

In the second half of the opera, the boys made their entrance on stage a bit out of sync with the orchestra. Harada stopped the music and waved them back to their spots to begin again. Here’s a hint: Those boys are terrific!

This production includes towering puppets manipulated by actors who follow the boys onto the stage and scenes of starry moonfilled nights and days with puffy clouds set against blue skies, all projected on a screen at the back of the stage, The set includes a towering guard house and a large wooden building with a staircase that leads to an off-stage bullfighting arena.

“Carmen” is part of the Tucson Desert Song Festival, which continues through next weekend. Click here for a full schedule of events and more information.