Iconic Songs, Jealousy and Death Take to the Stage Once Again in HGO's Carmen

The cigarette factory will rise again in Houston Grand Opera's Carmen at the Wortham.
The cigarette factory will rise again in Houston Grand Opera's Carmen at the Wortham. Photo by Lynn Lane
Jealousy is never a good thing in real life but as part of the plot of Carmen it makes for some great, classic opera.

Houston Grand Opera has brought back Bizet's Carmen, this time with former HGO studio artist (2012-14) Carolyn Sproule in the demanding lead role. Originally scheduled for a year ago, plans for this production had to be shuffled aside thanks to the pandemic. Now with all sorts of safety procedures in place, the singers and dancers will take to the stage at the Wortham.

Sproule, a graduate of The Julliard School who got her master's at Rice University and went to the Metropolitan Opera in New York after leaving Houston, describes Carmen as "an iconic mezzo soprano role. It's been a dream for several years to sing it." Besides the "Habanera" aria performed in the first act, the part gave the Canadian a chance to play what she calls "a rich, powerful character. It's a joy and in many ways a challenge to portray her."

Bizet set his opera in Spain around 1830. As it opens, Carmen, one of the cigarette factory workers, catches the eye of soldier Don Jose. Don Jose becomes infatuated with her and in escalating fashion abandons both his duties (he allows Carmen to escape and becomes involved with the smugglers she associates with) and his childhood sweetheart.

Carmen becomes enamored of the bullfighter Escamillo and tells Don Jose to return to his Micaela. Instead, filled with rage and jealousy, Don Jose decides if he can't have Carmen, no one can and sets out on a course that can only lead to tragedy.

This particular production has all of the great drama and music associated with Carmen — the Toreador song anyone? — but also what Sproule says is "a really unique concept telling the story also through dance. I haven’t really seen a Carmen like this anywhere else."

Sproule says she fell in love with Julie Andrews (The Sound of Music, My Fair Lady) when she was 5 years old which is when she started singing. Her parents considered her too young for the voice lessons she wanted so instead she started with piano, dance and acting.

When she was 12 she finally got her voice lessons and initially wanted to do musical theater. But her teacher wanted her to train classically. She says it was listening to Maria Callas recordings that made her decide opera was the way to go.

She grew up in Montreal, but at age 15 when her parents moved to Charlestown S.C, she headed for boarding school at Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan for one year before transferring to a high school  just outside of Austin. 

Asked why audiences should buy tickets for this production of Carmen, Sproule says "You have compelling characters, an exciting story and great music," Sproule says. "And great dancing too.

"It’s a wonderful cast. it’s a really young cast and it’s almost entirely current and former HGO Studio  members. It’s such a fresh great energy."

Performances of Carmen are scheduled for October 22 through November 7 at 7 p.m. Friday, October 22; 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and 2 p.m. Sundays at Wortham Center, 500 Texas. All patrons will be required to wear a mask over nose and mouth while inside the Wortham. For more information, call 713-228-6737 or visit houstongrandopera.org. $25-$255.
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Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
Contact: Margaret Downing