On Jul. 1 and Jul. 2, the most unusual operatic performance to grace Vietnam will play for two nights at the Ho Chi Minh City Opera House. Pitting French musicians and actors together with their counterparts from Vietnam, this will be the first genuine international collaboration of its kind seen in this country.
Telling George Bizet’s tragedy of the Spanish gypsy, Carmen, and the love triangle that forms between her, the soldier Don José and the toreador Escamillo, to this day Carmen is the most-performed opera in the world. It is also probably the best known. As the man with the idea for the collaboration, violinist Nguyen Huu Nguyen explains, “The story can be understood by all, no matter in which language it is sung, and the arias are already favourites.”
We speak to four of the key players behind what will be a unique, one-of-a-kind production.
Nguyen Huu Nguyen
France / Vietnam
How did you come up for the idea of this collaboration? And why Carmen?
After a concert organised with Lys Events in 2014, we wanted to create something more ambitious and we thought, why not Carmen? I love the idea of bringing the French music I know so well to a Vietnamese audience. And I also enjoy being able to do so with the French National Orchestra. We couldn’t have asked for a better Carmen than Thanh Huyen.
When did the collaboration start?
The project started one year ago. We worked on finding the right artistic and stage director, the right conductor, the right soloists for each role and, obviously, the right orchestra members. With them being in France and Vietnam, this gave a different colour to our ensemble.
How important is it to bring opera to Vietnam?
Opera has been brought before to Vietnam. Vietnamese musicians and lyrical singers are already trained and some of them are familiar with Carmen. It makes the process much easier. I hope the audience will like it enough for us to create new opportunities for cooperation.
Nguyen Thi Thanh Huyen
What do you like most about Carmen, the character?
Carmen is a strong, courageous and independent woman. For centuries, women have been dominated by men. Carmen breaks these rules, she takes back the power, without fear of the consequences. She is full of self-confidence and wants to be in control of her fate, even until her death. Eventually she dies because she refuses to acquiesce to the desires of Don José. As an opera singer, it is very exciting to play the role of such a charming woman.
How difficult is her role to play?
I consider myself to be a passionate, independent woman. Which, in a way, should make it relatively easy for me to embrace the role of Carmen. Mezzo-sopranos like me traditionally sing secondary roles in operas; Carmen is a notable exception.
Why do you think bringing Carmen to Vietnam is good for local audiences?
Vietnamese society is still very traditional, largely dominated by men. However Vietnamese women, just like Carmen, are famous for being full of passion, for being emotional and seductive. Women are considered the backbone of family and society. Vietnam had to fight for its independence for centuries. Vietnamese people strove to be in control of their fate and paid the high price for freedom, just as Carmen does. I think the Vietnamese audience will be greatly inspired by this opera.
USA / Vietnam
You’ve been working in Vietnam for years. How does this present project differ from previous musical projects you’ve undertaken?
This production is an opera, and I have never directed an opera before. I have directed several Broadway musicals and stage plays, but opera is really quite different. I am trying to approach this from a more believable perspective and make the characters seem more real and human.
How does your role as stage director differ to previous roles you’ve had in musical and operatic performances in Vietnam?
The main difference is that this time I do not have to perform in the show as well. I can concentrate all of my efforts on directing. This means that I can see everything from the audience’s perspective and thus have a better idea of how everything will be perceived.
Will this be your first work in Vietnam?
It will be my first visit and first musical collaboration in Vietnam. In my opinion, this particular musical work by Bizet is one of the most representative and imaginative that French opera has ever known.
What are you expecting from the project?
Hurdles! They inspire me and give me wings! I think it is a beautiful challenge for me to interpret Carmen with both Vietnamese and French artists on the same stage. It will bring an exotic touch to a musical creation that is breathtaking: through the colours, the vivacity, the intensity, the emotions and the tragedy, which is an essential part of the work.
What obstacles do you expect to encounter?
I think that the main obstacle [will be] the differences that can be found between both schools. But I am confident that thanks to these differences, we will create something vibrant and unique.