Opus Concert Theatre presents a new take on a popular opera

Opera, to many, means a long, overblown production that is hard to understand because it is performed in languages other than English.

Diana Cantrelle, founder and artistic director of the non-profit, Columbia-based Opus Concert Theatre wants to change that perception.

"I don't want opera to die. I really want it to keep going," Cantrelle said. "It is really an exciting art form. It brings in orchestra, singing and acting, all these different art forms coming together. It can be so exciting."

For the non-profit's next production, Cantrelle decided to present Georges Bizet's "Carmen." Filled with strong characters, beautiful music and a good story line, the opera is one of Cantrelle's favorites and has been on her bucket list to do.

She wanted to do it her way, however.

"I condensed a three-hour opera to about one-and-half hours," Cantrelle said. "The original libretto, I translated it and added my own flavor — spoken dialogue in English."

The new adaptation, titled "Carmen — Vive la Liberte (Long Live Freedom)" will be performed on June 11 and 18 at 3 p.m., at the Owen Brown Interfaith Center.

"Georges Bizet originally wrote it to have spoken dialect but it was not the convention at the time. It offended people," said Kevin Crysler, president of Opus' board of directors. "He died of a broken heart. His student set it to music."

Fluent in French, Cantrelle read the book by Propser Merimee that "Carmen" was based on to add more depth and understanding to the characters.

"It has been a labor of love," Cantrelle said. "I think it is going to be a real good show."

A semi-stage version, the Opus Concert Theatre's adaption of "Carmen" will feature nine principle players; 15 people in the chorus, a conductor and a pianist.

"People will be on chairs with music stands, singing and acting out scenes," Crysler said. "There will be some entrances and exits and some props and suggested costumes."

"We are a really young company and don't have the budget for a full orchestra, sets and lighting," Cantrelle said. "If the talent is really good, you don't need all that stuff. You will get the feeling and flavor of the music."

Opus Concert Theatre debuted in 2016 with the English opera "Dido and Aeneas" at Slayton House. Cantrelle purposefully based her new company in Columbia because of the talent.

"There is so much talent right here in our backyard with Baltimore, Virginia, the D.C. area and Columbia," Cantrelle said. "There's a place for opera here in Columbia."

The company is growing "a little bit at a time," Crysler said, with support from the Howard County Arts Council and individuals. Its next production will be Mentti's "Amahl and the Night Visitors" on Nov. 30, Dec. 2 and 3 at Slayton House.

"This is opera with training wheels," Crysler said. "It's shorter and condensed. You have beautiful music. You have an interesting story, Maybe next time you'll go see the full-length one."

Cantrelle is excited to stage "Carmen" at Owen Brown.

"It is a lovely facility. The acoustics are a dream," Cantrelle said. "I can't wait. It is going to be so much fun."

Opus Concert Theatre presents "Carmen — Vive la Liberte" on June 11 and 18, at 3:15 p.m., at Owen Brown Interfaith Center, 7246 Cradlerock Way, Columbia. Tickets are $25; $15 for children, students and seniors and can be purchased at the door, by phone at 301-377-0563 or online at www.OpusConcertTheatre.com.

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