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Love, sex and seduction: El Paso Opera presents 'Carmen'

The El Paso Opera presents "Carmen." Performances are Thursday, March 17, at 7:30 p.m. and again on Saturday, March 19, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available on ticketmaster.com

Love, sex, seduction, passion and a tragic love triangle. This is just a sample of what's expected from Georges Bizet's opera, "Carmen."

"If you've never seen an opera, and you come to "Carmen," then you're in for one of the best operas that have ever been written," said Cooper Nolan, who portrays the character Don Jose in the El Paso Opera's production. "You're going to hear tunes that you know. You won't even know that you know them, and you'll look at your friend and go, 'Oh! I know this tune.'"

Bizet began work for the opera in 1873 and finished the piece in 1874. Originally set in 1820 Seville, Spain, the opera tells the story of the seductive gypsy Carmen, who manages to seduce the Spanish soldier Don Jose.

"There's a free woman, who's also a criminal, who seduces a soldier," explained Ricardo Rivera of the company's 22nd season production. Rivera is taking on the role of Escamillo. "The soldier leaves the army and runs away with this woman. Then, she becomes disinterested in him; he's been thrown out of the army. And he has nothing left. His mother has died. And she's leaving him. So, he either wants her, alive and to be with him, or wants her dead. So, at the end, you'll see what happens," laughs Rivera. "That's the trailer version."

The El Paso Opera company began rehearsals nearly three weeks ago, in late February. But watching them rehearse would convince anyone they'd been rehearsing for months.

"There's a lot of detailed work to make sure the audience can really get into the show," said Nolan. "We can take you to another place. You're going to be here in the Chavez, but you'll be in Seville with us. You'll be humming along to the tunes that you know and following along to the ones that you don't."

And for skeptics that think the opera is not for them, one of the opera's lead actors says otherwise.

"A lot of people are afraid of coming to the opera. They think it's going to be boring, or they just don't understand it," said Sishel Claverie. Claverie, who is playing the role of Carmen, was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, before coming to United States to study music. She received her bachelor's in music from the University of Houston before obtaining her master's at Rice University, also in Houston. "I think this is the perfect opera for people that haven't come to the opera. There are beautiful tunes."

"It's not snobby," added Dan Kempson, playing the role of Dancairo. "Especially something like 'Carmen.' It's, you know, such a part of the universal, world-wide culture, the femme fatale." Kempson also wanted to mention that while you may see the occasional couple in the tux and ball gown, the El Paso Opera is open to people in jeans and sneakers.

"People who come to see operas are here to see the story; they're not here because it's fancy. They're here because of the passion to see what's on stage," said Kempson.

The opera comprises the El Paso Symphony, a chorus of 24 and more than a half dozen principal singers. El Paso Opera's artistic director David Holloway says this is one of the biggest productions for them.

"The reason we do these works is because they've lasted so long," said Nolan. "And they've lasted so long because they speak to every generation and they speak to us in so many different ways. [Everyone that comes] has a really different viewpoint on who these [characters] are. You'll identify, I guarantee, you'll identify with someone in the show, whether you want to or not, you're going to identify with someone in the show."

Subtitles are available in English and Spanish for their performances. The El Paso Opera's Opening Night is Thursday, with the performance starting at 7:30 p.m. at the Abraham Chavez Theater.

The second performance is Saturday at the same time.

Tickets range from $30 - $90 and can be purchased via Ticketmaster or by calling 915-581-5534.

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