NEMPAC Carmen Featured on Boston.com
By Jeremy C. Fox, Town Correspondent
A fickle, tempestuous gypsy girl will visit downtown Boston and the North End this weekend, breaking hearts and destroying lives. She’ll be spending some time in a church, though, which could do her some good.
On Friday, the North End Music and Performing Arts Center will stage its first-ever production of a full opera, Georges Bizet’s “Carmen,” at St. Paul’s Cathedral on Tremont Street. And on Sunday afternoon, the center will host a free concert version of the opera about that hot-headed gypsy in Christopher Columbus Waterfront Park.
Sherri Snow is the program coordinator for NEMPAC and plays the character Micaëla in this production of “Carmen,” in addition to co-producing the opera with Rebecca Rapoport-Cole, who plays Mercédès. Snow said the decision to mount the ambitious production came after the organization had a successful concert featuring music from Italian operas at the Old North Church last February.
“We had a huge crowd; we had over 150 people come, and we thought why not go ahead and do a full opera?” Snow said.
Though an Italian opera might seem the more obvious choice for a North End audience, Snow said everyone she’s spoken with in the neighborhood has been enthusiastic about the French “Carmen.”
“Even when I was just walking through the North End hanging up flyers, I had people singing the songs back to me in our local delis and our bakeries,” she said.
North End and Waterfront residents have enthusiastically supported NEMPAC events, Snow said, but don’t get to see many large musical productions close to home. That’s why she’s especially excited about the free concert performance at Columbus Park.
“We really wanted to do something for the community — free programming, a free concert just to make it so accessible to everyone, of all ages,” she said.
Both performances will feature a live, 35-chair orchestra conducted by Tiffany Chang, with musical direction by Thomas Enman. “Carmen” is co-sponsored, appropriately, by Carmen Trattoria in North Square, with support from NEMPAC leadership donors.
This production doesn’t just mark an ambitious new direction for NEMPAC; it’s also the first production of “Carmen” for director Giselle Ty, who trained as a classical trumpet player before working in non-musical theater at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge and later moving on to opera productions in 2009.
Ty worked with Opera Boston on its last five productions before the arts organization collapsed under a half-million-dollar budget deficit late last year. This year, she has gone on to direct for the Harvard Early Music Society, Juventas New Music Ensemble, and Opera Hub, but she still mourns the loss of Opera Boston.
“We lost a great opera organization in Boston, and it is a huge void in a city that should be able to support more arts organizations,” she said. “Boston needs to step up and realize that the arts and opera and music are vital to not just our enjoyment, but they’re vital to our lives and to our existence.”
That’s one reason Ty was excited to work on this production by a small organization producing its first opera. But it also meant facing special challenges — “Carmen” is being staged on a tight budget and performed inside a church rather than a theater, so full sets are impossible.
With some of the opera’s music written to accompany dramatic rises of the curtain revealing lavish sets, she and her collaborators had to get creative in finding other ways to create that drama and simulate the opera’s several different settings.
In the opening scene, for instance, all the performers on stage will be reading newspapers, holding the broadsheets up like a curtain and then gradually dispersing to reveal the performers playing soldiers.
Ty said the limitations require more from the performers, but that’s part of what makes this production special.
“What’s exciting is that we have to create the energy between the ensemble,” Ty said. “They’re the ones who are fueling most of the beauty, the sexuality, the sensuality. All of it has to come primarily from the people on stage.”
Snow, NEMPAC’s program coordinator, said the arts center is planning another concert series for next winter and looking to collaborate again with the Old North Church. It hopes to stage another full production of an opera by next spring.
“Carmen” will be fully staged at St. Paul’s Cathedral, 138 Tremont St. across from Park Street Station, on Friday, June 29, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for students and seniors, and free for children. To purchase tickets, go to https://www.nempacboston.org.
A free concert version of the opera will be performed at Christopher Columbus Waterfront Park on Sunday, July 1, at 2 p.m.