UNCSA’s Fletcher Opera Institute presents La Tragédie de Carmen

Neal Goren, former artistic director and conductor of New York’s Gotham Chamber Opera, returns to the University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA) as conductor of a 15-piece orchestra for Fletcher Opera Institute’s La Tragédie de Carmen (The Tragedy of Carmen) later this month. Goren studied piano at the School of the Arts in high school.

Neal Goren

Award-winning stage director Nicolas Muni, who became artistic director of Fletcher Opera Institute in August 2015, makes his local debut with the opera to be presented at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday and Friday, April 20 and 22, and 2 p.m. Sunday, April 24, in the Gerald Freedman Theatre of Alex Ewing Performance Place on the campus at 1533 South Main St.

Nicolas Muni

Tickets are $22 regular and $18 student and are available at uncsa.edu/performances, or by calling the box office at 336-721-1945. La Tragédie de Carmen will be sung in French with English supertitles.

One of the greatest directors of the 20th century, Peter Brook has fashioned a condensed version of Carmen which closely follows the original novella using the best music from Georges Bizet’s famous opera. Tenor Matthew Arnold plays a soldier, Don José, who is destroyed by his love for the beautiful gypsy temptress Carmen, played by mezzo-soprano Lindsay Mecher. Both are Fletcher Opera Fellows.

Goren, who was invited by Muni to conduct, said Brook’s version of Carmen is not a reduction of Bizet’s opera as much as a rethinking and a distillation of the original score. “It compressed the playing time from more than three hours to 80 minutes, eliminated the chorus and all but the essential characters, and reduced the orchestra from about 70 players to 15 players,” he said.

“This distillation achieves clearer storytelling and deeper characterization than the original, while making the presentation of the opera suitable for developing voices, more appealing to modern audiences, and fiscally feasible for institutions like UNCSA,” he added.

Our audience will confront a leaner, darker, and grittier Carmen than they are likely to have encountered previously. 

Neal Goren 

Before it closed in October 2015, Goren’s Gotham Chamber Opera amassed a 10-year history of smaller, thought-provoking productions that became a mainstay of the New York cultural scene. Goren became known for his use of emerging talent in smaller, more intimate spaces, with chamber music rather than a full-blown orchestra.

“At Gotham Chamber Opera, I popularized and legitimized the genre of chamber opera, which had until then been seen as a poor stepsister of grand opera,” Goren said. “Chamber opera distills the power of grand opera into a smaller frame. La Tragédie de Carmen achieves the same ends.”

Fletcher Fellows rounding out the cast are Megan Cleaveland and Jenny Schuler, sopranos performing the role of Micaëla, a childhood friend of Don José’s; baritone Cody Montá, performing as Escamillio, a bullfighter; and Simon Petersson, tenor, performing as the innkeeper Lillas Pastia. Undergraduate voice students Patrick Scully, Cameron Jackson and Alicia Reid perform as Lt. Zuniga; Carmen’s husband, Garcia; and a gypsy woman, respectively.

Meira Goldberg is choreographer, Dale Girard of the Drama faculty is fight choreographer. Vocal preparation is by Angela Vanstory Ward.

About Neal Goren
Alumnus and conductor Neal Goren is the founding artistic director of Gotham Chamber Opera, and conducted all of the company’s 24 productions. He has conducted throughout the United States and in Europe. For Gotham Chamber Opera he conducted repertoire from Monteverdi to Mozart to Muhly, including the world premiere of Nico Muhly's Dark Sisters. Goren has also conducted Britten’s The Turn of the Screw for Angers Opera (France) and Opéra de Nantes in 2004 and The Magic Flute for his New York City Opera debut in November 2003. He was the resident conductor of the 2015 Casalmaggiore Music Festival in Italy.

As a recital accompanist, Goren has performed with Leontyne Price (as her exclusive musical collaborator), Kathleen Battle, Hei-Kyung Hong, Harolyn Blackwell, Haken Hagegard, Thomas Hampson, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Aprile Millo, Hermann Prey, and others.

He has been a member of the faculty of the graduate opera department of the Mannes College of Music since 1992. In addition, Goren is a frequent judge of vocal competitions throughout the United States, appears annually on the Metropolitan Opera radio broadcast quiz, and is a member of the visiting committee to the Department of Musical Instruments of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

About Nicolas Muni
Nicolas Muni became artistic director of the Fletcher Opera Institute at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts in August 2015.

A native of New Jersey, he received his formal education at Oberlin Conservatory of Music in vocal performance, conducting and theater work, studying with Herbert Blau. He also studied voice in Washington, D.C., with the late Todd Duncan, who created the role of Porgy in Porgy and Bess. He received a fellowship from the National Institute of Music Theater to study with renowned Metropolitan Opera vocal coach Alberta Masiello.

Muni has served as artistic director for two American opera companies: Tulsa Opera and Cincinnati Opera, and was principal stage director and artistic advisor to the Kentucky Opera.

At Tulsa Opera, he produced and directed two American premieres: Verdi's Le Trouvère  and Rossini's Armida, both of which were broadcast on National Public Radio's "World of Opera" series. His highly successful and controversial new production of La Traviata was purchased and presented by New York City Opera.

During his tenure at Cincinnati Opera, the organization doubled its company budget, expanded the repertoire, created new productions and launched a blended capital/endowment drive. Productions  included the world stage premiere of a triple bill of La Voix Humaine/The Seven Deadly Sins/Medusa and the North American premiere of a double bill of Der Kaiser von Atlantis/The Maids.

Muni served as Director of Drama with the Metropolitan Opera Young Artist Development Program for two years, and was on-site evaluator for the National Endowment for the Arts for 14 years. He continues to serve as a grant application panelist and adjudicator. He was on the recommending panel of ARIA (Awards Recognizing Individual Artistry), an organization providing individual grants to promising young singers. 

As a freelance stage director, he has directed more than 200 productions with companies in North America, Europe, and Australia. His fruitful relationship with the Houston Grand Opera and Seattle Opera has resulted in two acclaimed co-productions: Il Trovatore and Norma. Also for Houston Grand Opera he directed the world premiere of Jackie O, an opera based on the life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. 

Muni has directed for the Canadian Opera Company, including Jenůfa, winner of a DORA award for best theatre production in 2003, and MacBeth, nominated for a DORA award for best production of 2006.

He has also directed for the Opera Theatre of St. Louis, Minnesota Opera, Boston Lyric Opera and San Francisco Opera.

Muni made his European debut in 1993 at Stadttheater Gießen in Germany with La Fille du Régiment. He also directed at the Tiroler Landestheater in Innsbruck, Austria; Opera Ireland;  the International Kurt Weill Festival in Dessau, Germany; the National Theater in Prague; and Stadttheater Bern, Switzerland.  His production of Il Trovatore was awarded best opera production at the prestigious Australian Age Awards. 

by Lauren Whitaker

April 5, 2016