Interview with Ted Sperling & Sammi Cannold

CARMEN is just under two weeks away!

We caught up with the directing team – Conductor/Musical Director Ted Sperling and Stage Director Sammi Cannold – to ask them about their immersive vision, and what we might expect that night when we enter the Rose Theater.

This special version of Carmen – in English, with dialogue rather than recitative – has been on your mind for a while. Why did you want to do it with MasterVoices?

Ted Sperling: When presenting familiar works with MasterVoices I always look for something that will make our version feel fresh. Jim Marcus, a board member, told me a few years ago how excited he was to hear the famous Quintet from CARMEN in a brilliant translation from Sheldon Harnick and presented me with the full script. Having just worked with Sheldon on the Broadway revival of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, I was immediately determined to present CARMEN in its original form, with spoken dialogue, so that it’s closer to the piece of musical theater that it was originally. I absolutely love the music, there’s a reason it’s been so popular all this time! And our presentation at the Rose Hall will feel almost in your lap….over 150 performers singing and playing their hearts out in an intimate opera house.

Sammi Cannold: I come from a musical theater background and this will be my first time directing opera. Carmen seemed like a perfect ‘first’, especially as this version is in English. And I think that replacing the recitative with dialogue helps extensively with exploring the relationships between characters in greater depth.

TS: It’s a piece that lends itself to innovation and adaptation, too. I’ve seen so many versions, ranging from the odd to the fantastic, and each of them made me think about the piece in a new way. Tcherniakov’s 2017 version at Aix-En-Provence (set in a treatment center for Don Jose’s PTSD!), and of course the distilled Peter Brook production at Lincoln Center Theater, were two that showed how flexible the piece is. And even our own concert version at the Verbier Festival in 2016 which had no staging at all was thrilling. While I didn’t want to go wild changing things, I knew I wanted to do a sleek and modern version with lots of momentum, and I knew Sammi could bring fresh insight to it.

So Sammi, tell us a little bit about your take?

SC: A lot of productions I direct are immersive in nature. In the circular and tiered layout of Rose Hall, I saw an opportunity to stage the piece as if it is set in a traditional Spanish bull ring and the audience are spectators at that fight. So that was my north star as we began creating the production and we’ve developed several elements to correspond to that guiding principal. For example, choreographer Gustavo Zajac and I are working with an exceptional Argentine dancer named Camila Cardona, who will embody an incarnation of Carmen in bull form. And the MasterVoices Chorus will sit in the onstage boxes as visible spectators.


Also, as I think most female creators would be, I’m attracted to the conversation around female power that’s uniquely embedded within Carmen.  Throughout the opera, we’ll be examining how that conversation plays out in Carmen’s story, as told in the year 2022.

Ted, help us focus on the music part of the immersive element. How will that work?

TS: Well, for one thing, the orchestra is visible, so the audience will feel close to them and be able to enjoy the intricacies of the orchestration. We’ve also made judicious edits in both score and dialogue, preserving the riches of the music while keeping the plot moving. We have a cast of extraordinary young opera stars, and I’m thrilled that we can present them in the beautiful acoustics of Rose Hall.

And Sammi, what about that female perspective you mentioned?

SC: To me, Carmen is about a woman’s relationship with freedom. She wants to live a free life and will do what it takes – she isn’t shy about manipulating her manipulators along the way. The metaphor of a bull helps deepen our sense of Carmen’s entrapment and how men taunt her with different forms of freedom. As a female director with a majority female creative team, I’m excited to bring that perspective to the forefront.

Wow! So this version feels a little more like Carmen’s story than Don José’s?

SC: Yes — absolutely!

TS: Between the music, the performances, the staging, and the dance, there will be plenty for people to sink their teeth into!

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