An alluring gypsy. A handsome officer. The world’s most fiery love story, told to some of opera’s favorite music. Come to Lillas Pastia’s gypsy tavern where Carmen’s story is imaginatively retold to the rhythms of flamenco guitar and dance. Intimate. Irresistible.

Experience Bizet's beloved opera in a completely new version. As envisioned by creators Jonathan Eaton and Rob Frankenberry, all of the opera's action is set within a gypsy tavern—even the orchestra becomes a part of the staging, reducing and concentrating Bizet's beautiful orchestrations .

And just like Carmen herself, our production of Carmen the Gypsy is a little bit nomadic, appearing in some unexpected and unusual venues. Experience the gypsy lifestyle with performances in a hookah bar (Sphinx Café), a Persian rug emporium (Artifacts), and a horse barn (Snuggery Farm). Or enjoy Carmen the Gypsy within the comfortable confines of the Falk Auditorium at Winchester Thurston School.

Carmen's destiny may be determined by the Fates, but your choices are wide open!



Production Team

Music   Georges Bizet
Libretto   Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy
English Translation   Sheldon Harnick
Director   Jonathan Eaton
Conductor   Robert Frankenberry
Assistant Conductor   Joel Goodloe
Pianist   Alec Chapman
Choreographer   Olivia Kissel
Scenic Design   Jonathan Eaton
Costume Design   Ken Chu
Lighting Design   Bob Steineck
Tour Lighting Design   Madeleine Steineck
Hair and Makeup Design   Taylor Rouse
Tattoo Design   Michelle Babkes 
Assistant Director/Tour Manager   Seamus Ricci
Stage Manager   Jody Cohen



Carmen, a Gypsy woman   Kara Cornell
Don José, Sergeant of Dragoons   James Flora
Escamillo, a Toreador   Christopher Scott
Michaela, a young woman   Katie Manukyan
Innkeeper/Fate/Dance Soloist   Olivia Kissel
Zuniga, Lieutenant of Dragoons   J. Patrick McGill
Moralès, Corporal of Dragoons   Ethan Sagin
Frasquita, Gypsy companion of Carmen   Emily Baker
Mercedes, Gypsy companion of Carmen   Emily Harmon
Dancaire, a Gypsy smuggler   Miles Wilson-Toliver
Remendado, a Gypsy smuggler   George Milosh


Check out the work of Michelle Babkes and the Gypsy Tattoo Parlor, who brought our Gypsies to life! 


Production Information

Reduced orchestration by Robert Frankenberry and Jonathan Eaton.

Carmen the Gypsy is sung in English, with English titles projected above the stage.

Running time: approximately 1 hours and 45 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.




The Story

Act 1
Michaela, a childhood friend of Don José, comes to the tavern of Lillas Pastia looking for him. He is on guard duty but soon returns. Michaela tells him that she has come to deliver a letter from his mother and a bit of money. In the midst of their interview Carmen appears—always flirtatious—with her gypsy friends. Her attentions to José soon engender a fight between her and Michaela—which ends with Carmen slashing Michaela.

Zuniga, commander of the guards, leaves to procure a warrant for Carmen's arrest, and orders José to keep watch over her. Coquettish as ever, Carmen cajoles José into letting her escape. He is punished with three months in jail.

Carmen quintet

Three months later, Carmen and her Gypsy friends Frasquita, Mercedes, Dancaire and Remendado find themselves in the same tavern when the famous toreador Escamillo stops by. Boasting about his bravado in the bullring, he flirts with Carmen, but since she ignores him, he leaves. José's voice is heard outside, then entering, he finds himself alone with her and professes his love.

A trumpet signals recall to barracks. When José prepares to go, Carmen taunts him. To prove his love for her, he shows her the flower she threw at him when he had allowed her to escape, but when she suggests that they elope, he tells her that he could never be a deserter.

Zuniga appears, ordering José to return to barracks. A fight breaks out. The smugglers burst in and remove Zuniga forcibly. José has been compromised and is forced to flee with the gypsies.

Act 2
Mercedes, Frasquita and Carmen while away the time consulting the cards. Carmen discovers that her cards portend death. The gypsy smugglers leave the tavern as Michaela appears searching for José. She hides when Escamillo enters, looking for Carmen. Instead, he finds José. The two men engage in an argument, but Carmen intervenes. Escamillo boastfully invites Carmen to his upcoming bullfight. As he leaves, Michaela bursts in to inform José that his mother is dying. In spite of Carmen's taunts, José sets out for home.

On his way to the bullring Escamillo delivers a rose to Carmen. She, in turn, admits that she loves him, even though Frasquita and Mercedes warn that José is returning and that he is violently jealous. So it is, and, even though José pleads with her, she rejects him. Infuriated by Carmen's rebuff, José murders her in a blind rage.



Meet the Composer

Georges Bizet
[born Paris, 25 October 1838; died Paris, 3 June 1875]

Georges Bizet, registered at birth as Alexandre César Léopold Bizet, was a French composer of the romantic era. Best known for his operas in a career cut short by his early death, Bizet achieved few successes before his final work, Carmen, which has become one of the most popular and frequently performed works in the entire opera repertoire.

Georges Bizet

During a brilliant student career at the Conservatoire de Paris, Bizet won many prizes, including the prestigious Prix de Rome in 1857. He was recognized as an outstanding pianist, though he chose not to capitalize on this skill and rarely performed in public. Returning to Paris after almost three years in Italy, he found that the main Parisian opera theaters preferred the established classical repertoire to the works of newcomers. His keyboard and orchestral compositions were likewise largely ignored; as a result, his career stalled, and he earned his living mainly by arranging and transcribing the music of others. Restless for success, he began many theatrical projects during the 1860s, most of which were abandoned. Neither of his two operas that reached the stage in this time—Les pêcheurs de perles and La jolie fille de Perth—were immediately successful.

After the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71, during which Bizet served in the National Guard, he had little success with his one-act opera Djamileh, though an orchestral suite derived from his incidental music to Alphonse Daudet's play L'Arlésienne was instantly popular. The production of Bizet's final opera, Carmen, was delayed because of fears that its themes of betrayal and murder would offend audiences. After its premiere on 3 March 1875, Bizet was convinced that the work was a failure; he died of a heart attack three months later, unaware that it would prove a spectacular and enduring success.

Bizet's marriage to Geneviève Halévy was intermittently happy and produced one son. After his death, his work, apart from Carmen, was generally neglected. Manuscripts were given away or lost, and published versions of his works were frequently revised and adapted by other hands. He founded no school and had no obvious disciples or successors. After years of neglect, his works began to be performed more frequently in the 20th century. Later commentators have acclaimed him as a composer of brilliance and originality whose premature death was a significant loss to French musical theatre.



Henri Meilhac
[born Paris, 23 February 1830; died Paris, 6 July 1897] 

Henri Meilhac was a French dramatist and opera librettist. As a young man, he began writing fanciful articles for Parisian newspapers and vaudevilles, in a vivacious boulevardier spirit which brought him to the forefront. About 1860, he met Ludovic Halévy, and their collaboration for the stage lasted twenty years.

Henri Meilhac

Although their most famous collaboration is the libretto for Georges Bizet's Carmen, Meilhac's work is most closely tied to the music of Jacques Offenbach, for whom he wrote over a dozen librettos, most of them together with Halévy. The most successful collaborations with Offenbach are La belle Hélène (1864), Barbe-bleue (1866), La vie parisienne (1866), La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein (1867), and La Périchole (1868). Also Froufrou (1869), with Halévy.

Other librettos by Meilhac include Jules Massenet's Manon (with Philippe Gille) (1884), Hervé's Mam'zelle Nitouche (1883), and Rip, the French version of Robert Planquette's operetta Rip Van Winkle (also with Gille). Their vaudeville play Le réveillon was the basis of the operetta Die Fledermaus.


Ludovic Halévy
[born Paris, 1 January 1834; died Paris, 7 May 1908] 

Ludovic Halévy's uncle, Fromental Halévy, was a noted composer of opera; hence the double and early connection of Ludovic Halévy with the Parisian stage.

Ludovic Halevy

In 1855, Halévy became acquainted with the musician Jacques Offenbach, who was about to start a small theatre of his own in the Champs-Élysées, and he wrote a sort of prologue, Entrez, messieurs, mesdames, for the opening night. Other little productions followed, Ba-ta-clan being the most noticeable among them. They were produced under the pseudonym of Jules Servières. Soon afterwards, the unprecedented run of Orphée aux enfers, a musical parody, written in collaboration with Hector Crémieux, made his name famous. In the spring of 1860, he was commissioned to write a play for the manager of the Variétés in conjunction with another vaudevillist, Lambert Thiboust.

The latter having abruptly retired from the collaboration, Halévy was at a loss how to carry out the contract, when on the steps of the theatre he met Henri Meilhac (1831–1897), then comparatively a stranger to him. He proposed to Meilhac the task rejected by Lambert Thiboust, and the proposal was immediately accepted. Thus began a connection which was to last over twenty years, and which proved most fruitful both for the reputation of the two authors and the prosperity of the minor Paris theaters. Their joint works may be divided into three classes: the operettas, the farces, the comedies. During this period, they wrote the libretto to Carmen but it was a sideshow to their other work.


The Real Carmen

It would be interesting to know what Prosper Mérimée's reaction to the opera Carmen might have been, had he lived to attend its premiere in 1875 at the Opéra Comique.

Mérimée reports that he had heard the tale of Carmen from the Comtesse de Montijo, the story of a bandito who had murdered his mistress—a euphemism in nineteenth century terms for a gypsy of questionable virtue. Mérimée narrates the story in the first person, as though he had been witness to the tragedy.

In his novella, Mérimée, while searching for the site of the battle of Munda, meets José, a fugitive whom he helps to escape from the authorities. Later in Cordoba, Mérimée visits Carmen, a Romani woman, who tells his fortune. Their session is interrupted by José. Although Carmen suggests robbing and murdering Mérimée, José, mindful of their earlier meeting, demurs.

Carmen watercolor

Lured into robbery and smuggling, José is informed by one of his gang that Carmen is already married. When her husband joins the smugglers, José provokes a fight and kills him.

The remainder of the story is somewhat the same in both novella and opera, but the thrust of the opera's plot is quite different. The novella details José's moral disintegration, while the opera focuses on Carmen's determination to live her life in freedom. In the novella, José amusingly blames Carmen's parents for their daughter's actions, saying that she was not properly brought up.

How, indeed, would Mérimée have felt, if he had witnessed the opera's premiere? Basically, he would have seen the trappings which appealed to a fin de siècle French opera goer: soldiers, choruses, street Arabs, a bevy of females such as Michaela, Mercedes and Frasquita (needed for a trio and part of the famous quintet) none of whom appear in the novella. Gone is Carmen's husband. The picador whom Carmen loves (he never appears in the novella other than in the bull ring) has become a toreador (primed to sing the most famous aria in the opera). And, finally, Carmen herself, who meets her end in the plaza before a bullring, rather than in a lonely mountain spot more appropriate for the novella but far from crowd pleasing on the operatic stage. He surely would have complained and perhaps sued composer, librettist and producer. But, alas, there were no copyright laws in 1875.

Carmen's metamorphosis has never ceased. As the opera's popularity grew, Bizet's opéra comique was equipped with recitatives—rather than spoken dialogue—so that it might be performed on the stage of the more prestigious Paris Opera. More recently and more familiarly to American audiences it was recast as a Broadway musical. In 2016 SummerFest seeks to return—if not to the essence of Mérimée's tale—at least to the imagined atmosphere of gypsy life which he sought to invoke.

—Jerry Clack