For the first time in six years Arizona Opera is mounting Georges Bizet’s popular opera “Carmen” as part of the Tucson Desert Song Festival.
And for the first time, conductor Keitaro Harada will see the famous work that ranks as one of the world’s most beloved operas.
“I have known the music of Bizet for a long time. I’ve never seen ‘Carmen’ ever,” said Harada, Arizona Opera’s associate conductor who will direct the action from the orchestra pit at Tucson Music Hall in two performances this weekend. “For me this is very exciting. The first time I will get to see a production will be from the best seat in the house, which is the podium.”
Stage director Tara Faircloth has set the production against the late 1930s backdrop of the Spanish Civil War, but the story will remain unchanged: A Gypsy beauty seduces a soldier, wins his love then abandons him to tragic consequences.
“(Faircloth) has a great concept,” Harada said. “She knows what she wants and she really delivers it well. … This production is fantastic. Her set, her concept, the costumes, her masterminding, brings Bizet’s music to life. It works.”
Mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack, singing the title role, also is experiencing a first: Her first time performing the role in a traditional setting. She performed her first “Carmen” with Santa Fe Opera in 2014 in a Stephen Lawless production that set the piece in the mid-20th century along the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas. Lawless incorporated video images and alluded to contemporary pop culture, including the drug-overdose death of singer Amy Winehouse and border issues from drug smuggling and human trafficking to illegal immigration.
Mack has an interesting history with “Carmen.” When she was growing up in Houston, Texas, she auditioned for a spot in the “Carmen” children’s choir; she didn’t get it.
As a freshman in college, she was cast as the Cigarette Girl — her first ever opera role — and throughout college and graduate school, she performed bits and pieces from the opera.
“It’s marinated in my mind and my psyche for a long time,” said the 32-year-old mother of a 7-month-old daughter. “It’s really exciting to get to actually do it.”
Harada said “Carmen” has become a timeless treasure because of Bizet’s music, a sentiment Mack echoed.
“I think people, even peripherally if they don’t know the music is from ‘Carmen,’ they have at least heard some of the big numbers,” Mack said. “I think it has stood the test of time because it is brilliantly composed and is just a wonderful piece.”
“It’s a masterwork. It’s a complete evidence of a genius working and proving that this is awesome music and awesome writing,” added Harada, 30, who also holds associate conducting posts with the Cincinnati Orchestra and Richmond (Virginia) Symphony. “And then the story is very catchy. The music is very passionate.”