Bizet’s Business

Carmen is big box office.

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A few years ago, we sat down with James Wright, general director of Vancouver Opera. Mr. Wright was forthright about the fact that certain iconic masterworks in the opera firmament were the reason opera companies can still exist, at least in financial terms. He said there were “perhaps a dozen” such works. Near the top of that list has to be French composer Georges Bizet’s Carmen.

Five years ago, Carmen set every box office record in Vancouver Opera’s history. It seems the music-loving public cannot get enough of this tragic story of misbegotten love. This year, from September 27 to October 5, history is set to repeat itself all over again. This time, however, there will be two mezzo-soprano stars sharing the spotlight: Kate Aldrich and Ginger Costa-Jackson. It might be a good idea to attend the opera twice, to see and hear each of these great singers play the fiery factory worker whose charms cause a downward cascade of fortunes for her protector.

A controversial failure when it first opened at the Opera-Comique in Paris, in 1875, Carmen began its ascent into iconic status some years later, in Vienna, where it was endorsed by Brahms, Tchaikovsky, and Wagner. Anyone new to the opera is sure to be thrilled, just as aficionados always are.

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September 3, 2014