North West Opera bringing ‘Carmen’ to Donegal

North West Opera bringing ‘Carmen’ to Donegal
North West Opera is bringing an international production of “Carmen” to An Grianán Theatre in Letterkenny this weekend.

North West Opera is bringing an international production of “Carmen” to An Grianán Theatre in Letterkenny this weekend.

“Carmen”, under the baton of Maestro Nader Abbassi of the Cairo Opera Orchestra, features soloists from Ireland, England, the United States and Germany; and players from the Cairo Opera Orchestra. Local singers will also perform in the production, which features a chorus of about 60 adults and children.

“Carmen”, at An Grianán at 8pm, tonight, Friday, Oct. 17th and Saturday, Oct. 18th, follows North West Opera’s successful “La Boheme” in July.

Professional soprano Ann Jennings, founder of the regional opera company, said, “The quality of musicians and the quality of conductors we’re pulling in now -- musically we’ve surpassed our own expectations,”

Nader Abbassi is principal conductor of the Cairo Opera Orchestra. He made his acclaimed debut with the orchestra in a majestic production of Verdi’s “Aida”, set at the pyramids at Giza. The performances of Maestro Abbassi and the Cairo players are supported by the Department of the Egyptian Minister of Culture in an ongoing cooperation that also saw orchestra members play this year in North West’s “La Boheme”.

North West Opera staged a smaller “Carmen” five years ago, but Ann wanted to revisit the work with a larger orchestra. She said North West is still trying to build local audiences for opera and producing this “Carmen” in English makes Bizet’s masterpiece that much more accessible. Even people unfamiliar with opera will know pieces of the score, such as the rousing Toreador Song and the sultry Habanera.

As well as soprano Ann Jennings as the fiery Carmen, the cast features American soprano Diana Bryan McLaughlin (Micheala); Barcelona-based soloist Stephen Mullan (Don José); lyric baritone Jonathan Wagstaff (Escamillo), who performs extensively in Europe and the US; Belfast-born mezzo soprano Sarah Richmond (Mercedes); mezzo soprano Ruth McPhillips (Frasquita), who joined North West for La Boheme; Kevin Shields (Morales), a founding member of Strabane Concert Brass; stage and television actor Eoghan McBride (Lillas Pastia) of Gaoth Dobhair; newcomer Shay Halligan of Donegal Youth Orchestra and St. Eunan’s Cathedral Choir (Dancairo); and more. Gerard Doherty is director.

“We mix locals with soloists -- we’re trying to give opportunities to local people and local musicians,” Ann said. The chorus includes about 15 young people.

“If you nurture the kids and if you bring the kids in on opera, they will remember it for the rest of their lives,” Ann said. “They will be getting trained and they will have a chance to sing with an orchestra and they will be the cultured audiences of 15-20 years’ time.”

North West would like to tap into funding to allow them to grow: A committee of just six is behind the productions. “We don’t have a telephone line,” Ann said. “We don’t have anything to do what we are doing.”

Ann said an annual festival would draw those who flock to opera and classical events elsewhere. “The vision is big,” she said. “There is a huge vision here that needs people to back it and support it and come forward.”