Kids captivated Carmen
Gazette News Services | Posted: Wednesday, March
25, 2009 11:00 pm
"No" never sounded as blasphemous as it did
Thursday coming out of Carmen's painted lips.
How dare she spurn Don Jose's worshipful
adulation and choose death over love? Five
hundred area high school students felt opera's
force Thursday morning at the Alberta Bair
Theater. The high drama, including a girl fight,
a duel with knives, and a death scene, wasn't
lost on them.
"I liked the death scene
best. And the woman who played Carmen was really
good," said Heidi Breeden, a sophomore from
Heidi Rae, a Lewistown native,
played the title role and Jeff Kitto, of
Bozeman, played her spurned lover Don Jose.
Carolyn Coefield played Jose's childhood
also a sophomore from Forsyth, said she sings in
the school choir, but wasn't sure if she'd ever
tackle an opera role.
"I'd be nervous," she
The Forsyth students boarded buses
before sunrise to catch the morning performance
of Rimrock Opera Company's production. They
planned to have lunch at Rimrock Mall before
heading home. Not one school canceled their trip
to see the opera, despite snow-packed roads, ABT
education director Bess Fredlund said.
Students came from Cody, Wyo., Reed Point,
Joliet, Lodge Grass, Laurel and across Billings.
For many, it was their first opera and several
dressed for the occasion. Randell Hopkins, a
freshman at Billings Christian School, donned a
tie and dress shirt. He and his peers studied
the plot during two lunch sessions so they could
follow the action.
"This should be pretty
good," Hopkins said just before the curtain went
up. "I watched 'Phantom of the Opera' and I
guess it will be sort of like that."
Nagel, ROC general director, said he was
impressed with the young audience.
kids really paid attention," Nagel said. "They
were pretty excited about being here."
The opera is set in Spain, sung in French, with
dialogue spoken in English. The ROC last
performed it in 2002. French students from
Billings Senior High took in the performance and
some said they were able to interpret a few
words without looking up at the projected super
titles above the stage.
"It was pretty cool
hearing them sing in French," said Nick
Pelensky, a sophomore in French 2.
bobbed during the more recognizable melodies,
including the "Toreador" song performed by most
of the 70-member chorus and Escamillo the
matador, played by baritone Christopher Holmes.
About halfway through the first act, a
toddler dashed out of his seat and leaned over
the railing to watch the 30-piece orchestra
performing in the pit below the main floor of
the ABT. His mom grabbed him before he fell onto
the musicians. Unfazed, music conductor Andy
Anderson kept his wand waving and his face
smiling throughout the three-hour performance.
BOB ZELLAR/Gazette Staff Jeffrey Grant Kitto, as
Don Jose' and Heidi Rae, as Carmen sing a duet
in Rimrock Opera Company's Carmen at the Alberta
Rimrock Opera stages classic tale of tragic love
JACI WEBB Of The Gazette Staff | Posted:
Thursday, March 19, 2009 11:00 pm
Jeff Kitto looked like he was making snow angels
on the gray patterned rug in a store front off
The Bozeman tenor, a lead in
Rimrock Opera Company's upcoming production of
"Carmen," had his 6-foot-3 frame stretched into
an "X" shape waiting for blocking instructions
from stage director Douglas Nagel. Because the
opera isn't set to open until March 26 with a
student matinee, the rehearsal was pretty
relaxed Monday night. There was time to goof
around a bit.
About half of the 75-member
chorus was on hand, wearing an array of
clothing, from a "Dimebag Darrell" T-shirt on
one of the men to bright gauzy skirts on several
women. It was the first of many long evening
rehearsals. Vocalists had already learned the
French lyrics and complex music, written by
George Bizet in the 1870s. They sounded ready
for opening night, voices uplifting and melodic,
but their movements were uncertain as they
strode across the room. Over and over again.
The rehearsal was for Act III, during which
a band of gypsies crosses a mountain pass,
dragging lumpy bags of smuggled goods.
With Nagel's coaching cocktail of prodding,
insight and humor, this curious mix of community
members started to resemble a tired troupe of
gypsies, gossiping and groaning when they
weren't singing their parts.
how people in Europe are very buddy-buddy with
each other?" Nagel asked, urging them to link
arms and hold hands while they walked.
boosted the size of the chorus for this
production, eager to educate more people in the
nuances of opera. In this group, there are
choristers who have performed in eight operas
and singers who joined the group over the
winter, responding to a call for auditions.
Steve Green and two of his three teenage
daughters, Deyja and Devera, are all in the
chorus, and noted pianist Jacquelyn Weitz and
her brother Joseph are also part of the group.
"We had a gas," Nagel said after the
rehearsal. "It was a really great moment for me
because it looked like they were learning and
they were having fun."
So lurid is the
tale of the gypsy temptress Carmen that Paris
audiences scorned the opera when it was first
performed in 1875. But other composers raved
about "Carmen," including Tchaikovsky and
Brahms, who reportedly saw it performed more
than 20 times and considered it the greatest
opera in Europe at the time. "Carmen" is sung in
French, set in Spain and has dialogue spoken in
The story follows Carmen, a
sensuous gypsy, who slashes another worker with
her knife and is held captive, awaiting a trip
to prison. But her captor, Don Jose, is so
smitten that he helps her escape. The role of
Carmen is played by Montana native,
mezzo-soprano Heidi Rae. Jose (pronounced
Joe-zay) is played by Kitto. Other roles are
played by Christopher Holmes, Carolyn Coefield,
Megen King, Meghan Dibble, Isai Jess Munoz,
Dennis Rupp, Bret Weston and Chris Sheppard.
Andy Anderson conducts, and Sandi Rabas serves
as rehearsal pianist.
As testament to the
Rimrock Opera Company's strong reputation in the
opera world, Nagel said he is able to bring
performers back again and again.
"None of the
leads are making their debut here," Nagel said.
"They've all appeared in at least one opera
Fresh out of college and all set
to move to Nashville to pursue a career in
country and pop music, Rae was persuaded by
Nagel to try her hand at opera and joined ROC
for "Hansel and Gretel."
That was an
important move for the Lewistown native because
through other cast members, Rae met her future
husband. Her experience in Billings also helped
her get parts in productions by Opera Idaho and
Opera San Jose and a role in Baz Luhrmann's
"Boheme on Broadway."
children were my future husband's cousins," she
said. "And at the after-party, I was introduced
to him. He only went to the opera to support his
cousin. Now, I put him over to the other side
and he enjoys opera."
Kitto, a founding
member of The Clintons rock band of Bozeman,
made a guest appearance with his former band on
St. Patrick's Day at Bones Brewery. He is hoping
to coax a couple of his former bandmates to make
a walk-on appearance in "Carmen" next week.
This role of a hot-headed Spanish soldier has
Kitto digging deeper into his own psyche.
"If I contrast it to my role in 'Elixir'
last year, which had some passion in it but it
was pretty light-hearted, this role is very
strong. I go from a man so broken-hearted and
then so angry. I look at my little girl and my
wife and tap into the pool of passion there."
'Carmen' plays twice this weekend
JAMES WOODCOCK/Gazette Staff
JAMES WOODCOCK/Gazette Staff
Carmen, sung by Heidi Rae,
tempts Don Jose, sung by Jeffrey Kitto, in
Rimrock Opera's production of "Carmen," which
plays Saturday and Sunday at the Alberta Bair
JAMES WOODCOCK/Gazette Staff Mezzo-soprano and
Montana native Heidi Rae performs the title role
in the Rimrock Opera production of "Carmen,"
coming to the ABT.
JAMES WOODCOCK/Gazette Staff Micaela, portrayed
by Carolyn Coefield, tries to win back her
childhood love Don Jose (Jeff Kitto), but he has
eyes only for Carmen. Coefield and Kitto are two
of the performers in the upcoming Rimrock Opera
production of "Carmen."