She’s the one your mother warned you about. She’s beautiful, seductive, wily, fickle and elusive.
Her name is Carmen, and she’s the centerpiece of the 1875 opera by Georges Bizet that opens the New Orleans Opera Association’s 2014-15 season this weekend.
Set in Seville, Spain, and sung in French with English translations projected above the stage, “Carmen” will be performed Friday night and Sunday afternoon at the Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts.
Consistently ranked among the top five most frequently performed operas in the standard repertoire, “Carmen” is noted largely for a splashy musical score that’s as lush and sensuous as its Gypsy title character.
Two of its arias, “L’amour est un oiseau rebelle’’ (‘‘Love is a rebellious bird,” better known as “The Habanera”) and the ‘Toreador Song’ (“Bullfighter Song”) are familiar to most ears, thanks to countless TV commercials over the years.
Among those seduced by Carmen’s suggestive come-ons is Don José, an officer in the Spanish army whose obsessive desire and futile efforts to possess her sends his life on a downward spiral. Complicating the equation is the appearance of the dashing bullfighter, Escamillo, who steals Carmen’s heart, plunging Don José into a blind rage with tragic results.
Making her New Orleans Opera debut in the title role is mezzo-soprano Geraldine Chauvet. The role, she explained, is a natural fit for her, with its libretto in the language of her native France.
“I like singing in my language,” Chauvet said. “It’s always easier, because you can better express the intention of the composer.”
The role also sparks happy memories for Chauvet. Five years ago, at the Arena di Verona in Italy, she impressed renowned tenor and conductor Placido Domingo so much that he invited her to appear with him in Tokyo.
Singing the role of Don José is New Orleans native Bryan Hymel. A tenor whose last New Orleans outing was Lt. Pinkerton in Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” (2013), Hymel recently wrapped up a stint at the New York Metropolitan Opera as Rodolfo in Puccini’s “La Bohème.”
New Orleans Opera General and Artistic Director Robert Lyall conducts the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra. Brad Dalton is the director. Carol Rausch directs the New Orleans Opera Chorus.
Singing the comprimario role of Frasquita, a friend of Carmen’s, is soprano Amy Pfrimmer, head of vocal studies in the Newcomb Department of Music at Tulane University.
Recently, while teaching in Tulane’s Summer in Paris program, she was surprised by her students as they visited Bizet’s grave in the Père Lachaise Cemetery.
“We were just standing there, and then they spontaneously broke out into the ‘Toreador Song,’ ” Pfrimmer said. “That was one of the happiest moments of my life. It was just fantastic to be able to do that.”