Carmen is in its final week of rehearsal

Ana María Martínez as the title character in Carmen (2017); Photo: Ken Howard

Ana María Martínez as the title character in Carmen (2017); Photo: Ken Howard

On September 9, we open the 17/18 season with Carmen. If you’ve been following along on Snapchat and Instagram Stories, you’ve seen some of our behind-the-scenes fun: rehearsals, set building, and even flamenco dancing.

As we wrap up rehearsals this week and prepare to open on Saturday, we thought we’d show you where we’ve been by breaking it down and showing you how this opera came to life.


Several week ago, we started with studio rehearsals. These are musical and staging rehearsals where the principal cast and the chorus go through the music, sometimes individually, sometimes together, to get a sense of the show’s flow, the acting involved and how the director expects it to all look. These rehearsals are conducted in rehearsal halls with a piano, not on the stage and without many of the main elements of the opera (the orchestra, the lighting, the costumes etc). Each scene is mapped out on the floors with tape so that the cast can rehearse their roles in their proper positions, relevant to each other and the chorus, as well as to the sets and props on stage.


Dancers rehearsing for the upcoming production of Carmen (2017)

Dancers rehearsing for the upcoming production of Carmen (2017)

Carmen is full of great dance numbers. In some scenes, there is ballet, in others flamenco and in some cases, both. In our production, flamenco is king. While the singers have been rehearsing classic tunes like “Habanera,” 12 dancers have been learning intricate flamenco choreography that will help bring the production to life. (Look out for a flamenco dance behind-the-scenes video soon.)


On a parallel path, our production team has built the set, developed the lighting and rehearsed the set changes. Each scene change requires its own choreographed movement to ensure it is completed within the allotted time, usually during the intermission (In Carmen, there are two intermissions and a short pause before the final act.)


Kelley O'Connor (Mercedes) backstage during a rehearsal of Carmen (2017)

Kelley O’Connor (Mercedes) backstage during a rehearsal of Carmen (2017)

At the same time, our costume team develops, builds and fits costumes for each of the cast members. While this production is a revival, we’ve updated the costumes and each piece must be customized for the individual wearing it and fitted with the necessary elements that support the staging of the character – ensuring they can make their movements onstage and ease through any quick changes offstage.


Meanwhile, without the singers, the orchestra has worked through the music with the conductor in what’s known as an Orchestra Read. James Conlon, LA Opera’s music director, leads the orchestra for this classic production. They review the piece multiple times over the course of two weeks leading up to opening night.

About ten days prior to the opening, the pieces started to come together and hit the stage.


Ten days prior to opening, at the Piano Dress Tech rehearsals, the cast took the stage for the first time. They rehearsed with no costumes, little show lighting and no orchestra. They mapped their action across the stage, note the spacing and their role relevant to the audience in the theater.


Ana María Martínez singing "Habanera" during a piano dress rehearsal of Carmen (2017)

Ana María Martínez singing “Habanera” during a piano dress rehearsal of Carmen (2017)

At the Piano Dress rehearsal, the cast took the stage for the first time in costume. They are called as if they were performing and get into their full makeup, hair and costumes. This too is a rehearsal of sorts for the costume, wig and makeup team. They’ll work through their timing and the pieces and parts each character will require. On the stage and while they sing, the cast works through their movements, while the production team works through the set, lighting, etc.


At the sitzprobe, the singers meet the orchestra for the first time. Sitzprobe translates literally from German to English as “Sitting Rehearsal.” And that’s exactly what it is. There is no staging, there are no costumes, the cast and the chorus sits in rows of chairs on the stage facing the orchestra pit. This magical rehearsal is all about the music.


This week, all the pieces are together for the first time at the Orchestra Techs. It’s the opportunity to refine and perfect. The director gives notes for the production, the conductor gives notes to the orchestra and the cast about the music. When challenges arise, they’re solved at this series of rehearsals that take place in one or across two days. Sometimes costumes are adjusted, lighting is modified and set pieces are adjusted or moved. Even the translated text – supertitles – are in place. During this rehearsal, our stage manager refines all the cuing. This is probably the most critical rehearsal in the series – they start and stop and rework.


Tonight, we run the show as if it were opening night. All the kinks have been worked out and we’re nearly ready for an audience. And sometimes we have one. Through our Education and Community Engagement programs, we invite special groups of seniors or students from schools across the county to observe the rehearsal and experience the grandeur of our main stage operas.

It’s from the Final Dress Rehearsal that we have our Social Media Squad, posting in real time. So, if you want a sneak peek at Carmen, follow us on Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram stories and make your plans to catch this opera classic before it wraps on October 1.

When these different paths converge and all these world class artists and artisans come together, there’s nothing like it. There’s a reason we say that LA Opera is greater than the sum of its arts.

At the downbeat on opening night – when Maestro Conlon gets us going – you’ll understand why.

To learn more about and purchase tickets to Carmen, click here.

LA Opera is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to the greater good.
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