Welsh National Opera’s autumn season is all about strong, rebellious, feisty women, from Carmen to Gilda in Rigoletto and the Vixen in The Cunning Little Vixen.
“These operas all have independent, strong-willed women who stand up for what they believe in,” says Elin Jones, WNO’s Nicholas John Dramaturg.
“Even though it isn’t a theme we’re marketing, I think it’s pretty important that there’s strong female characters in each of the operas.”
The Oxford season opens on November 19 with the company’s new production of Carmen, which has been given a bold new makeover. Forget flouncy Spanish dresses and castanets – this Carmen has been transported to 1970s Brazil, and the eponymous heroine makes her first entrance in a boiler suit.
Elin explains: “[Director] Jo Davies and the creative team wanted to present the idea that Carmen was struggling every day with the economic position she was in, because she was a woman with no power, no economic stability and no real place in the community, and they wanted to show this community as being up against the army and up against the world they’d been set in.
“The costumes show her going from the boiler suit to rising up in society, and she uses her feminine charms to get herself into a better position. I think that’s rather an interesting use of costume, actually.”
Re-imagining a much-loved classic like Carmenis always a risky business, but Elin hopes audiences will love this new take on Bizet’s final and best-known opera.
“It’s a challenge, definitely,” she acknowledges. “You want to make things more modern and effective, but you don’t want to lose the charm.
“In this setting of Carmen we still have the Latin American flavours and the traditional Andalusian melodies, so we are still connected through the language and the world that Carmen lives in.
“Having it in a modern setting makes it more shocking and relevant, as it would have been for the audience who saw it originally. At the time Carmenwas performed, nobody had seen a working class woman like this onstage. Trying to bring it more up to date into a situation where modern audiences can understand and empathise is hopefully bringing the original Carmen story more to life.”
The cast includes Dimitri Pittas as Don Jose and French mezzo-soprano Virginie Verrez making her role debut as Carmen.
The season also includes revivals of two popular WNO productions, Verdi’s Rigoletto – updated to the White House in the 1960s, when John F. Kennedy was President – and Janacek’s enchanting The Cunning Little Vixen.
Elin, whose role as dramaturg includes preparing the surtitles and giving the pre-performance talks on tour, is looking forward to the company’s return to Oxford, which holds a special place in her affections.
“I really like the Oxford pre-performance talk audience,” she enthuses. “I’ve only been doing this job for a year and my first-ever pre-performance talk was in Oxford last year and I was absolutely terrified! But they were lovely, and one of the Oxford WNO Friends gave me a jar of marmalade at the end of the week! So I had a lovely time and I’m really excited to be back.”
Is Oxford a favourite WNO venue?
“There’s quite a few venues that people have taken a shine to, but everyone enjoys being down in Oxford though, so I’m very much looking forward to it.”
Welsh National Opera is at the New Theatre, Oxford, from 19-23 November. Box office: 0844 871 3020 or www.atgtickets.com/oxford.