Astoria couple’s love is star−crossed in opera ‘Carmen’

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On stage, they’re one of the most famous and tragic couples in music history. Off stage, they’re a couple of married opera singers living in Astoria.

Husband−and−wife team Stephanie Chigas and Darren Anderson play the lead roles, Carmen and Don Jose, in “La Tragedie de Carmen,” an adaptation of Georges Bizet’s well−known opera, at Boston University’s second annual InCite Arts Festival in New York this week.

The story of “Carmen” is about a free spirited and sensuous gypsy woman, who in Chigas’ words is “your famous femme fatale,” not completely capable of truly loving someone, in the traditional sense, because of her free−spirited nature. She meets a Spanish solider, Don Jose, who falls obsessively in love with her and ends up going mad because of it.

“It’s such an incredible story,” Chigas said. “She goes through a lot of situations throughout the course of the opera and shows a variety of colors. She’s a very colorful and very powerful woman, and it comes out in the acting and singing.”

Since the 1880’s, “Carmen,” which is based on the novella of the same title by Prosper Merimee published in 1845, has been one of the world’s most performed operas. But one thing to keep in mind is that Peter Brook’s adaptation, directed by Jim Petosa with conductor William Lumpkin, is a modification of the original; however, both Chigas and Anderson feel that this adaptation enhances the original storyline and makes it more accessible.

“The Peter Brook version follows the book more closely in terms of sequence of events,” Chigas said, “and the roles that the characters play are a little different, so in that respect it’s a lot more interesting. I guarantee that a person who has no knowledge of opera will still recognize 80 percent of the songs in ‘Carmen,’ so that person wouldn’t feel totally lost. All the great hits of ‘Carmen’ are in the adapted version, but the characters are a little more exposed and it creates non−stop musical greatness and dramatic effects.”

This performance will be the fifth time both Chigas and Anderson have starred in this opera together. The thought of working with one’s spouse may be daunting to some, but for these two talented performers it’s just one more thing they have in common.

“Sometimes people are competitive — we’re not,” Chigas said. “Everything is pretty much a normal married life outside of singing. When we are performing, whether it’s together or not, it’s just an immense amount of support for each other because we understand the business.”

“It’s not hard playing a character that’s head over heels infatuated with Carmen,” Anderson added. “Character−wise, I think it’s because Carmen represents social freedom, and personally, it’s my wife — so there are no problems there.”

Originally from Chicago, the pair met in graduate school at the University of Illinois where they were both in the same classes and productions. As classically trained singers, both said they were introduced to opera later on in their lives but were drawn to it immediately because of their passion for music.

“The base for my wanting to be an opera singer comes from a purely musical start and the love for singing,” Anderson said. “Music in general is very emotional. Your favorite band or favorite song creates this emotional world for you; now, take your favorite song and put it on stage, not only do you get that sensation and emotion in your ears, but you also see it happening in front of you and it’s very complete.”

Even if you have never considered going to the opera, the performers say this production should be a promising introduction.

“I think that this is a rare opportunity for someone to come and see an opera and not have to commit to the stigma that they’re going to be sitting for 3 hours and that they’re not going to understand if they’re not French−speaking,” Anderson said. “This particular version takes the best parts of ‘Carmen’ and condenses it into something that everyone has access to. If I can give everything that’s good in “Carmen” and do it in 90 minutes instead of three hours, then that’s today’s society. I think it’s tailor−made for New York.”

If You Go

La Tragedie de Carmen — Part of Boston University’s InCite Arts Festival

When: March 6 & 7, 7:30 p.m.; March 8, 2 p.m.; Pre−show discussion 6:30 p.m. March 7: “From Bizet to Brook: Opera as Theatre”; Talkback with director, select cast, Opera Institute faculty March 8, 3:30 p.m.

Where: New World Stages, 340 West 50th Street, Manhattan

Cost: $32, $22 for BU alumni & seniors, $17 for students and groups of 10 or more).

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