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Powerful opera 'Carmen' is music festival's choice this summer

Carolyn Sproule will sing the title role of “Carmen” this weekend when the Lakes Area Music Festival presents the opera in two performances at Tornstrom Auditorium in Brainerd. Submitted 1 / 4
Andrew Lovato plays Escamillo, the bullfighter, who will sing the famous “Toreador” aria in the Lakes Area Music Festival upcoming operas this weekend at Tornstrom Auditorium in Brainerd. Submitted 2 / 4
Jonathan Magness, will perform the violin solo in Vaughan Williams’ “The Lark Ascending” at 7 p.m. Wednesday in a Lakes Area Music Festival concert at Tornstrom Auditorium in Brainerd. Magness has performed in all nine seasons of the music festival. Submitted 3 / 4
Mackenzie Whitney, will play the soldier Don Jose, in the opera titled “Carmen” this weekend when the Lakes Area Music Festival presents two performances at Tornstrom Auditorium in Brainerd. Submitted 4 / 4

"Carmen," one of the most performed operas of all time, is coming to Brainerd thanks to

the Lakes Area Music Festival.

Operas through the LAMF have been popular among residents in the lakes area in the past and organizers are bringing the opera back with two free performances at 7 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at Tornstrom Auditorium in Brainerd.

Then at 7 p.m. Wednesday, the festival will take a musical voyage to the British Isles that will include one of the most hauntingly beautiful violin solos ever written: "The Lark Ascending" by Ralph Vaughan Williams, organizers stated in a news release. This free concert also will be at Tornstrom Auditorium.

"Carmen" is the story of a fiercely independent gypsy woman in Spain who seduces a soldier, causing him to become a deserter and an outlaw, and then throws him over for a bullfighter, the news release stated. It premiered in Paris in 1875 to largely negative reviews, and its composer,

Georges Bizet, died soon after, never knowing what a hit he had created.

Carolyn Sproule, who sings the title role, stated, "To me, Carmen is one of the most fascinating and complex characters in opera. She lives outside of the law and more than anything wants to be free; something she is willing to die for. This is one of the great mezzo roles, and I'm thrilled to sing it and share it with you this summer."

Sproule, a native of Montreal, also has performed with the Metropolitan Opera, the Vancouver

Opera and the Montreal Opera.

Mackenzie Whitney, who plays the soldier, Don Jose, has performed frequently at the festival. He recently completed his studies at the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia. Andrew Lovato plays Escamillo, the bullfighter who sings the famous "Toreador" aria. He has also performed with the Minnesota Opera, the Cincinnati Opera and the Austin Opera. Micaela, the good girl Don Jose left behind in his village, is played by Jacqueline Bolier. She is a graduate of the Curtis Institute and has performed widely in Philadelphia and elsewhere.

As with the five previous operas the festival has presented, this will be a semi-staged production, meaning there will be costumes and some scenery but the orchestra will remain on the stage. In addition to the orchestra and opera roles, there will be a 20-person chorus and 12 members of the Northfield Youth Choirs.

One-half hour prior to each opera performance John Birge of Minnesota Public Radio will interview Andrew Altenbach, conductor, and JJ Hudson, director.

This event is sponsored by the Five Wings Arts Council and Region 5: The Good Life. The LAMF was a recipient of The Good Life grant in the amount of $6,000 which will be used to present "Carmen."

In Wednesday's British concert, Jonathan Magness, will perform the violin solo in Vaughan Williams' "The Lark Ascending." He is the acting principal second violin for the Minnesota Orchestra. According to Emily Hogstad's program notes, the piece "skillfully depicts the carefree purity of the flight of a skylark" by employing "birdlike trills, a flexible meter, a folk-like pentatonic scale, and the silvery upper range of the violin."

It is one of the most popular works of classical music. The two other works on the program are by composers who spent important parts of their lives in England even though they were not British. In 1790, Franz Joseph Haydn lost his job with the Hungarian Esterhazy princes when his patron died. He was persuaded to go to London, where he spent many of his remaining years. The first symphony he conducted in England was his "Oxford" symphony, played when Haydn

received an honorary doctorate from the university there.

Felix Mendelssohn's "Scottish" symphony was inspired by a visit the young composer took to Scotland in 1829. The first movement's dramatic main theme occurred to the composer when he saw the ruins of Edinburgh's Holyrood Palace lit up by moonlight. He wrote to his family, "There's a little room to be seen there, with a winding staircase leading up to it. This the murderers ascended. ... Everything around is broken and moldering, and the bright sky shines in."

Prior to the concert, at 6:30 p.m., there will be a pre-concert lecture by conductor Andrew


The Lakes Area Music Festival, an annual summer series attracting many leading instrumental and vocal performers, takes place July 30 through Aug. 20. During the main festival, all performances are at Tornstrom Auditorium in Brainerd. All concerts are free of charge. Almost 150 instrumentalists and vocalists from 24 states and three continents will be in the Brainerd Lakes area as guest artists. Visit for more information,

More on the Good Life grant

The Good Life grant, cities, counties, non-profits and other organization were invited to submit project ideas that helps illustrate the great assets of the five-county region. Twenty-one organizations submitted applications, which were reviewed by a diverse panel of stakeholders representing the economic development sector, local government, emerging leaders, education, and community development. There were 10 projects were selected, receiving grants ranging from $2,500 to $8,000.

The Good Life regional branding project is a collective effort between Cass, Crow Wing,

Morrison, Todd and Wadena economic development coordinators and Region Five Development Commission to attract a workforce for the 21st century, as the region faces a higher than average number of baby boomers coming into retirement age.