I Want the Public to Ask Why Don José Left Micaëla - Edmunds Freibergs
““Carmen” was one of the first operas I saw in our “White House” when I went to school. Tickets were inexpensive, tickets for schoolchildren even more so. The opera was half-empty, and at the time you could buy a ticket in the gallery and go see the performance from the stalls,” Edmunds Freibergs recalls, reminding that Laima Andersone-Silāre performed the role of Carmen that time. “I liked her very much, I was so in love with her that I went to see “Carmen” several times – all because of her. And she was really spectacular. So was Micaëla, performed by Regīna Frinberga, Escamillo by Pēteris Grāvelis, and the outstanding Latvian tenor Kārlis Zariņš sung the part of Don José. They were all true stars, the opera troupe was very impressive! Grāvelis, Fišers, Grīnbergs, Heine-Vāgnere...”
As for staging “Carmen” for the Sigulda Opera Music Festival, he received the offer from the festival’s Artistic Director Dainis Kalns, and Edmunds Freibergs says he is very pleased that he is collaborating with Sigulda for the third time (he previously staged “La traviata” and “Othello” in Sigulda – ed.).
“Of course, this is not an easy job as the opera has to be staged within, literally, a few days, with just five or six rehearsals.
In order to do everything fast in such a short time, I must have a perfect knowledge of the material,” the director says laughingly, admitting that he does not consider himself very musical and therefore has to work hard with the script and sound. “But once the production begins in earnest, you have to be very flexible and able to work with the singers, who also have something to offer. They are no marionettes, after all! So staging an opera is not easy and your goals cannot be too ambitious – or you will need more time.” That is why one of the main tasks for the stage director is to “put the picture together” and create such conditions for the soloists in which they would feel comfortable. “That’s why I don’t like such mise en scènes where soloists are hanging from the ceiling upside down or lying prone – and trying to sing all the while!” Edmunds Freibergs laughs, emphasising that he believes the public mostly comes to the festival to hear stars perform.
“And stars is what we have again this year: for example, Clémentine Margaine from France who will sing Carmen. I believe that she does not have to play, being so vital and attractive, and with such a temperament. In the autumn, she will sing Carmen at the Metropolitan, so the performance in Sigulda will be like warming up for New York to her. And the two gentlemen – Philippe Do in the role of Don José and Pierre-Yves Pruvot as Escamillo – are also spectacular.” It is a great pleasure to work with French soloists, and it is not the first time for Edmunds Freibergs to work with French actors: “I am, in fact, the only Latvian stage director who has staged a show in a professional theatre in France – Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya” in north of France three years ago.” The director says, smiling, that his French is not too good, but it was good enough to work with the actors, and quite often they told him not to speak through the interpreter.
“But the main thing in working on this production is that the outstanding artists, including the soloists I work with now, are outstanding personalities, yet they also are very unpretentious and nice people.”
Commenting on the show on the 2nd of August, Edmunds Freibergs reminds us that “Carmen” has been staged so many times that everybody has certain opinions about it – and so do the singers.
“But I am interested specifically in Micaëla. In no production she seemed acceptable to me, although her part was sung by beautiful voices.
Because I’ll never understand why Micaëla, from the first time she appears on the stage, is so unhappy and suffering. Everybody realises that there is nothing in her for Don José as she is… well, a kind of a bluestocking...”
The director is therefore very happy that the role of Micaëla in Sigulda will go to the beautiful Latvian soprano Maija Kovaļevska, a very charming and attractive woman. “I wanted to shift the focus towards Micaëla,” admits Edmunds Freibergs, adding that both love stories are very powerful, but Micaëla’s love (unlike the way Carmen loves) is altruistic and genuine, she wants to sacrifice herself for the man she loves.
“Undeniably, Carmen’s love is very strong and passionate, but she wants everything for herself. Yet when she does not need that “self” any longer, she does not need the other person either.” However, the director cannot place too great of an emphasis on Micaëla, as she cannot be the main character.
“And still, I wanted to relieve Micaëla of this disproportionate suffering, stressing that she is lively, young, loving girl too. I believe that Maija could do a very good job at it.
Usually it is clear why Don José falls in love with Carmen. But I want the audience to ask, while did he have to leave Micaëla...”
The director also believes it is very important that, working on the Sigulda Opera Music Festival for three years already, he has developed very successful co-operation with the Opera Choir artists: “They are professionals, and it is very important to me that I can rely on them. They are creative and responsive, as are our Opera soloists. And, of course, the same goes for set designer Aigars Ozoliņš and costume designer Ieva Kundziņa.” Staging an opera is a very strange process – it is very short, and many stage directors say that staging an opera in such a short time is impossible, and that at least a month or two is necessary. “Of course, sometimes there are some mistakes, but I think the opera goers accept it and do not mind, because it is not the most important thing for them.
There is something there that creates a special atmosphere – the moments of togetherness when we feel that we are all in the same boat and that we have to do everything in the short time we have. Thank God, it is a very creative atmosphere, with everybody trying to do as much as they can.”
The director reminds us that the story of Carmen is not foreign to Latvians, there are a lot of passionate women in Latvian literature. “Of course, “Carmen” is considered something exotic. And the music – God forgive me for saying this – it’s a pop opera. In the best sense of the word, that is – it is genuinely beautiful music but it is so catchy that, if performed by good singers and musicians, it pours into your soul! The “Habanera”, the “Toreador Song”… I think it is such a pleasure to hear them. But the opera is also interesting in that the premiere of “Carmen” was a failure…”
Edmunds Freibergs is looking forward to Saturday night and hopes that weather will be good. “When I was going to concerts in the past, I would have never thought that I could be staging performances for the Opera Music Festival. If someone had told me ten years ago that I would be staging classical operas, I would have said he was out of his mind. But yesterday I realised – yes, it may not be easy, but there is one major advantage in directing an opera – the director gets the opportunity to hear the most beautiful voices in the world, again and again, and does not have to pay anything for such a privilege...”