Intimate Opera 

Madama Butterfly and La Tragedie de Carmen

News flash: Less is still more. That's certainly the unspoken philosophy of Walnut Creek's Festival Opera. The beauty of its approach to opera is in its snugness, according to artistic director Olivia Stapp. Take the company's productions of Giacomo Puccini's Madama Butterfly and especially the downsized eighty-minute adaptation of Georges Bizet's La Tragédie de Carmen by British playwright and director Peter Brook, which opens August 11.

Brook's Carmen, a 1981 reworking of the classic romance between a cigar-factory Gypsy maiden and a Spanish army officer -- now receiving its West Coast premiere -- could have been written expressly for Stapp's company. "I do admire [Brook] very much," says Stapp, a dramatic soprano with thirty years' experience. "I chose his version because I wanted to do something elegant and dramatic at the same time, something that's on the edge. Brook took scenes out of order [in shortening Bizet's work]. It has great strength because it's so compact. In the full-length version, there are chorus scenes that interrupt the flow of the drama. Brook eliminated those. He has the same idea as I have: to keep the drama foremost."

The same basic idea applies to Festival's production of Puccini's tragic favorite about cross-cultural love. "Our company cannot do grand opera," explains Stapp. "Butterfly is easily done by a small company because it doesn't have a huge cast with great chorus scenes. Our theater is small, only 780 places. Butterfly, like Brook's Carmen, is a perfect fit for us."

In keeping with Festival Opera's mission to bring world-class opera to Walnut Creek while showcasing young singers, Carmen stars mezzo-soprano Buffy Baggott in the title role, with tenor Brandon Jovanovich and soprano Kristin Clayton. Madama Butterfly features soprano Guipeng Deng, a veteran of previous Butterflys.


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