Opera Returns With Opera Theater Of Cape Cod

The cast of The Tragedy of Carmen takes a bow after their performance at Cotuit Center for the Arts
Eileen Christiansen, Founding Director, OTCC

THE ENTERPRISE – With what could be called a liberal attitude toward love, the gypsy Carmen might have been the woman “Rigoletto”’s Duke of Mantua had in mind when he sang “La donna è mobile” — even though, of course, the song and the woman are from two different operas.

Interestingly, the duke sings this well-known aria, which translates to “women are fickle,” at the beginning of act 3 of the famous Verdi opera, while the “Toreador Song,” one of the most recognizable in “Carmen,” comes in act 2 of Bizet’s four-act opera.

The newly formed Opera Theater of Cape Cod (OTCC) is hoping to literally rewrite the notion that operas are insufferably long and overly stuffy.

For debut performances earlier this month, OTCC founder Joe Turbessi translated “The Tragedy of Carmen,” a 75-minute intermission-free adaptation of the opera by British theater director Peter Brook, from French into English and brought the story into the present day.

The performance starred OTCC founder Eileen Christiansen as the beguiling but doomed Carmen, while OTCC’s third founder, Ethan DePuy, provided stage direction for the show.

While Mr. Turbessi, Ms. Christiansen, and Mr. DePuy all perform mainly in the Boston area, all three have ties to the Cape.

“All three of us have different reasons for loving the Cape,” said Ms. Christiansen, who added that she spent summers with her family in both Wareham and Osterville.

“There’s a passion for arts in general on the Cape and tons of musical theater,” said Ms. Christiansen, “but there isn’t any chamber opera. As artists it’s exciting for us to be able to bring opera to the community.”

Ms. Christiansen said that she and her two OTCC co-founders first teamed up on a production of “Amal and the Night Visitors” in Cambridge and that it was after that performance that Mr. Turbessi and Mr. DePuy has a conversation about bringing chamber opera to the Cape.

“Joe is one of the most talented and versatile musicians I know in the Boston area,” said Ms. Christiansen. “He’s fabulous to work with; calm and inspiring and very funny.

Ethan DePuy, Founding Director, OTCC

Mr. DePuy is a powerhouse. He’s a popular tenor in Boston and has done a lot of opera and is also an art educator. He’s also done stage direction and is an accomplished photographer.

In addition to performing, Ms. Christiansen acted as producer for the show. “I enjoy the behind-the-scenes work, making sure all the i’s get dotted and everything runs smoothly from paying the performers to making sure the props and costumes arrive,” he said.

Chamber opera, as opposed to other forms of opera, is designed to be performed on a smaller scale, often with a chamber ensemble rather than a full orchestra. In the case of OTCC, “The Tragedy of Carmen” was performed with Mr. Turbessi at the piano rather than with a full orchestra.

“It makes for a more intimate story,” said Ms. Christensen, “the drama comes from the music rather than from the spectacle of the performance.”

Joseph Turbessi, Founding Director, OTCC

One advantage of chamber opera is that it can be performed in smaller-scale venues. OTCC’s performance of “Carmen,” for example, marked the first time an opera was able to be performed at the Wellfleet Preservation Hall. The opera was also performed on the main stage at the Cotuit Center for the Arts.

For sets, “The Tragedy of Carmen” employed little more than a table and a few chairs. Mr. Turbessi and his piano were on the stage with the performers.

While set in the modern day, Ms. Christiansen said that the performance “retained its timeless themes,” as well as much of the music that makes “Carmen” so memorable; the “Toreador Song” for example, which was sung by Andrew Miller as the bullfighter Escamillo, and Carmen’s “Habanera.”

“Ethan’s vision really pulls the opera forward,” said Ms. Christiansen. “There’s nothing more exciting than a live performance.”

OTCC’s premiere performance The Tragedy of Carmen features Fran Rogers (Don José), Eileen Christiansen (Carmen), Kathryn McKellar (Micäela)

Ms. Christiansen said the group has been met with positive response from many local groups, including the Cape Cod Chamber Orchestra and the Cape Cod Chorale, as well as the CCftA and the Wellfleet Preservation Hall. In terms of ticket sales, Ms. Christiansen said, they’ve seen a mix of off-Cape and locals in the audience. Ms. Christiansen also felt lucky to have local families hosting the artists in their homes. “It’s such a blessing to be welcomed this way,” she said.

The Sunday afternoon performance of “The Tragedy of Carmen” was well attended, and if anyone in the audience minded opera sung by performers wearing jeans, leather jackets, and sneakers, they didn’t admit it. Upon completion, the show received a standing ovation from the majority of the audience.

In terms of a vision for the future, Ms. Christiansen said they hope to be able to perform annually “pieces that would bring in a range of viewers from opera aficionados, to those who are new to the genre.”

The cast of The Tragedy of Carmen takes a bow after their performance at Cotuit Center for the Arts

To keep up with the new group, OTCC has both a website and a Facebook page.

“We’re hoping through resources to increase the size of the project and to be able to incorporate more performers from the area,” said Ms. Christiansen. “We’re hoping to make connections and excited to see the art form bloom.

Read more . . .

By Joanne Briana-Gartner

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