Glenn’s Trumpet Notes

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My Trumpet Student Stars in Bizet’s “Carmen” at Seattle Opera

Posted by glennled on November 1, 2011

Anita Rachvelishvili (Carmen) with ensemble; © Elise Bakketun photo, courtesy of Seattle Opera, http://www.seattleopera.org.

My trumpet student, John (51), may cringe when he sees that headline, but that’s too bad—to me, he’s a Star! No, he doesn’t play in the orchestra. No, he doesn’t sing a major role in any opera. No, he doesn’t sing in the opera chorus. He’s simply a “super”—an “extra.”

In Carmen, just finished at the Seattle Opera House, he was a banderillero at the bullring in Seville, Spain. Wearing the traditional black and silver costume and carrying his bright yellow banderilla, he lead the parade of bullfighters into the ring. Banderillas are sharp,

Planting the banderillas

barbed sticks which are planted into the bull’s shoulders to weaken it for the kill.

On 4 October, he appeared in full costume on King 5 TV during a segment of the New Day Northwest show, promoting Carmen for the Seattle Opera (see http://www.king5.com/new-day-northwest/The-Seattle-Opera-Performs-131056473.html  toward the end of the segment). He was on stage only twice per performance in this opera.

John has been a faithful and competent extra in enough operas so that the opera company gave him a couple of complimentary tickets for the Friday night performance on 28 October. The seats were outstanding—right in the center section on the Orchestra Level (main floor) of McCall Hall . He kindly offered them to me and my wife, and we quickly and gratefully accepted. We usually attend one or two operas per season. We just saw Porgy and Bess last August (see my post of 15 August 2011).

Georges Bizet, 1838-1875

Carmen is now our favorite, supplanting La Boheme by Puccini. Both are consistently among the top 10 operas performed annually throughout the world. Carmen was first performed 136 years ago in Paris on 3 March 1875. It struggled to survive, and Georges Bizet, composer, died on 3 June just after its 30th performance. He could never have guessed its prominence today in operatic lore. In 1962, I was lucky enough to play second trumpet in a production in the old Meany Hall at the University of Washington. The Dean of the School of Music, Dr. Stanley Chapple, was the conductor.

John, originally from New York, commenced trumpet lessons with me almost two years ago (see my post of 7 January 2010). Carmen is John’s fourth opera, all in Seattle. In 2008, he was a soldier in the grand processional march in Verdi’s Aida. In 2009, he was a lackey/servant in Verdi’s La Traviata.  In 2010, he was a Normano guard/soldier in

Poster, American Production, 1896

Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor. He did it the first time because it sounded like so much fun. It was, so two of his good friends decided to do it also. He says he keeps doing it because he loves opera—the acting, singing, orchestral music, and (sometimes) dancing. “Being on stage with some of this incandescent talent is a very special experience [and that gives him] “the best seats in the house! Someone asked me what I get paid to do it, and I told them that when I interviewed for the role, I asked if I had to pay.”

When Carmen ended Saturday night, another “super” (a Microsoft corporate Vice President) hosted an after-hours party at Ten Mercer in Lower Queen Anne, about a block from Seattle Center. John contributed some wine. “Just about everyone showed up, including all the principals,” he says, and “we didn’t get outta there until 2:30 a.m.”

Somehow, I think that if he could, Georges Bizet would have been there, too, happy and proud.

4 Responses to “My Trumpet Student Stars in Bizet’s “Carmen” at Seattle Opera”

  1. Lorri said

    Excellent story! Glad you enjoyed the opera. Very interesting.

    • glennled said

      It’s kinda stange how opera can get a grip on you, isn’t it? John can tell us all about it. Appreciate your kind words.

  2. John Smilgin said

    Thanks 4 the post, Glenn. I am thrilled you and your wife enjoyed the show as much as you did and am so glad the seats were that good! I am no authority on opera, but prevailing wisdom/opinion is that Carmen is by far away the most approachable of operas; some have even gone so far as to say it is as near a perfect opera as you will find in the classic repertoire. It was the first opera I saw (my father dragged me to see it when I was a tender 10 or 12 years old, but I enjoyed it!). Interestingly enough, I heard on WFCC (great classical music radio from Cape Cod) today that The Magic Flute is now the opera most performed around the world. I would have thought it was Carmen. Thank you again for the nice post here on your blog. Am gonna get back to practicing my lip slurs on my trumpet now………………………well, maybe tomorrow 🙂

    • glennled said

      Yes, as amateur opera fans, we thought that Carmen was more tightly constructed than the few other operas we have seen. Everything belonged, nothing was extraneous to character development or the plot. There were no long passages inserted primarily to show off the singer’s voice and technique. The music is so melodic, delightful, and well-suited to the action. As you say, it’s “the most approachable of operas.”

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