April 19, 2010
Elizabeth Klipp, 404-413-1356
In everyday life, Georgia State senior Caitlin Andrews is a polite young woman with blue eyes, blond hair and fair skin.
But in a few days, she’ll transform into a dark haired, olive skinned temptress to star as Carmen in the famous opera of the same name.
“She’s everything I’ve been told my entire life not to be – a witch who is very seductive,” Andrews said. “I had to give myself permission to become Carmen. That’s my biggest challenge.”
For the first time ever at Georgia State, the School of Music this weekend is performing one of the world’s most popular and recognized operas, Georges Bizet’s “Carmen.” Show times are at 8 p.m. April 22 - 24 and 3 p.m. on April 25 at the Rialto Center for the Arts.
Andrews will play Carmen during the Thursday and Saturday performances, alternating the lead with graduate student and mezzo-soprano Kristen Vienneau, because the opera takes such endurance.
“'Carmen' is very challenging in terms of stamina for the singers,” said W. Dwight Coleman, director of the GSU School of Music and artistic director for the opera. “It’s a massive production with four acts and for the orchestra, it’s a tour de force as well.”
Set in 1830 in Seville, Spain, the opera tells the story of the strong-willed gypsy Carmen who is intertwined in a passionate triangle between herself, a jealous corporal and a swaggering toreador, which results in explosive tragedy. It is a French opera with a libretto by Henry Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy that is based on the novella by the same name, written by author Prosper Mérimée.
Over the last four months, Andrews has been preparing for the lead role by coaching the music and singing through its arias often to build up her stamina. She’s also watched other company’s performances of the opera and studied the opera’s dialogue to fully understand the plot and what characters are saying about Carmen.
In the GSU’s performances, the opera’s dialogue will be in English, but the characters will sing in French. Andrews said picking up the language wasn’t too difficult because her stepfather exposed her to French music at a young age and she’s good at memorization.
However, Andrews, a soprano, did have to learn how to sing in a lower range for the traditional mezzo-soprano role of Carmen.
The 23-year-old music major grew up in Gwinnett County in a musical family. Her father is a jazz bassist and her great-grandmother was also a singer. As a child, Andrews’ parents heard her singing around the house and knew she had a talent.
Andrews began performing when she was seven in chorus and musical theater, and continued through middle school and high school. At age 17, Andrews decided she wanted to enter the Miss America pageant as a way to earn scholarship money for college. For the talent portion of the competition, she decided to sing opera and ended up loving the craft.
“I’m not only using my singing abilities, but I’m also doing something that’s timeless,” Andrews said. “And it’s a lot more challenging than people think. You have learn how to sing well, sometimes in another language, interact with the characters, watch the conductor and know your stage movements.”
Good thing Georgia State students have an expert team helping them perfect their performances for “Carmen.”
School of Music vocal coach Peter Marshall is the musical director for the performances, and Michael Palmer will conduct the Georgia State University Symphony Orchestra. Jonathan Knipscher, a costume designer for the Metropolitan Opera, and Don and Linda Guillot, makeup artists from the New Orleans Opera, are also being brought in to help students become the characters.
And while the opera itself is a complex, Georgia State is adding even more flare to the performances by incorporating flamenco dancers, Julie Baggenstoss and Jose Giacomea, as well as members of the Georgia Boy Choir, under the direction of David White.
Kudos should be given to the GSU students for having the skills to execute “Carmen,” experts say.
“It really shows the talent we have here at Georgia State to have two casts able to sing these roles,” said Kay Paschal Freeman, stage director for the opera. “This opera shows off the gifts of Georgia State’s choral department, the outstanding musicians in our symphony and our excellent opera department. “
Tenors John Irvin and Brendan Callahan-Fitzgerald will be featured as Don José, the corporal. Bass-baritone Lei Pan will play Escamillo, the toreador. Sopranos Juliana Spector and Maria Valdes will the part of Micaela, the village maiden.
Andrews, who will graduate in the summer, is bubbling with excitement for the curtain to rise on Thursday night so she can assume the persona of fiery Carmen. She hopes audiences will like the opera as much as she’ll enjoy performing it.
“Our school has done a really good job helping students be the best we can be,” Andrews said. “This is a good cultural experience to see a famous, well known opera for a lesser price but with the same professional quality.”
Tickets prices are $22, $32 and $48. Georgia State students receive half off the ticket price with a Panther ID. To purchase tickets, call 404-413-9TIX or visit www.rialtocenter.org.