Festival Opera presenting ‘Carmen’ at Walnut Creek’s Lesher Center
By Lou Fancher
With two weeks remaining in the rehearsal period, Festival Opera announced a major and unforeseen cast change Saturday in the company’s new production of Georges Bizet’s iconic opera, “Carmen.” Acclaimed Bay Area mezzo-soprano Nikola Printz will now assume the title role of the legendary character, replacing previously announced artist and rising star Taylor Raven, who has withdrawn due to illness.
“It is with regret that I announce mezzo-soprano Taylor Raven has unexpectedly withdrawn from our production of ‘Carmen’ due to illness,” Zachary Gordin, Festival Opera’s general director, said Saturday. “On behalf of the company, we wish Taylor a speedy recovery and look for new opportunities to present her in the future.
“Today I also wish to announce — and am truly grateful — that an artist as fantastic as Nikola Printz is willing to step in at the last minute as our Carmen. Nikola’s voice and stage presence will be an ideal fit in our updated setting of this legendary opera. I believe audiences will be gobsmacked by the display of talent on our stage.”
The four-act opera that premiered in 1875 just three months before Bizet’s untimely death at age 36 is based on an 1845 novella by French dramatist and archaeologist Prosper Mérimée. The libretto by Henri Meilhac tells a timeless story of love, obsession, jealousy and tragic violence that spins around Don José, a soldier whose all-consuming desire for Carmen leads him to abandon his career and childhood sweetheart, Micaëla. Fiery and frequent Spanish dances add lush, visceral reward to a score universally recognized as a masterpiece in operatic repertoire.
Festival Opera will present “Carmen” on Aug. 18 and Aug. 20 in two acts with one intermission at Walnut Creek’s downtown Lesher Center for the Arts. The 2.75-hour production sung in French with English supertitles (translations displayed above the stage) celebrates the company’s 32nd anniversary season and features conductor and San Francisco Opera veteran Robert Mollicone, choreographer Michael Mohammed, production designer Peter Crompton, lighting designer Matthew Antaky, costume designer Joy Graham-Korst and makeup by Kristen Campbell and Denise Gutierrez.
The cast offers equal luster: in leading roles joining Printz as Carmen are soprano Hope Briggs (Micaëla) and tenor Dane Suarez (Don José), along with baritone Young Kwang Yoo, bass-baritone Matthew Lovell, soprano Lila Khazoum, mezzo-soprano Lily Bogas, tenor Taylor Thompson and baritone Andrew Fellows.
Printz (who uses they/them pronouns) is known for their “sheer stylistic range … full-throated vocalism and raw emotional honesty,” according to the San Francisco Classical Voice. The San Francisco Chronicle named their recent Schwabacher Debut Recital at San Francisco Opera Center one of San Francisco’s “Best of 2022, writing, “Listeners reveled in the beauty of Printz’s singing — their lustrously dark chest tones, their elegant phrasing … such commitment and tonal splendor.”
Following three pandemic-era summers as a participant in the Merola Opera Program, Printz began their tenure as an Adler Fellow with San Francisco Opera in 2023. During SF Opera’s centennial season, Printz covered the role of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo in the Bay Area premiere of Gabriela Lena Frank’s “El Ultimo Sueño de Frida y Diego,” as well as singing “Frida Image #2.”
Printz also sang various roles in Richard Strauss’ “Die Frau ohne Schatten” and performed “Musetta” in the company’s innovative “Bohème Out of The Box.” Recent performance highlights include the title roles in “Carmen” and “Dido and Aeneas” with Opera San José; “L’italiana in Algeri” with Opera Memphis; “The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein” with Pocket Opera; Freschi’s “Ermelinda” with Ars Minerva; “Orfeo ed Eurydice” with West Edge Opera; and “The Rape of Lucretia” with Green Mountain Opera Festival.
Printz has also appeared as Elle in Poulenc’s monodrama, “La Voix Humaine;” Rosina in “Il Barbiere di Siviglia;” The Fox in “Cunning Little Vixen;” Olga in “Eugene Onegin;” Cherubino in “Le Nozze di Figaro;” and Aldonza in “Man of La Mancha” for Shreveport Opera.
Printz’s first musical homes were in jazz and cabaret clubs, and they are well versed in crossover styles of singing. In addition to engagements at Yoshi’s Jazz Lounge and Club 1923, Printz also created the role of Velma Louise Cole in Boxcar Theater’s immersive “Speakeasy SF” and joined San Francisco Symphony for their annual queer variety show, “Holiday Gaiety.”
An accomplished aerialist, Printz has also performed on a spinning trapeze in grand concert halls and smoky cabaret clubs. They are currently performing in Opera Parallèle and the San Francisco Transgender District’s second annual “Expansive: A Showcase of Transgender and Nonbinary Classical Artists,” held this year at ACT’s Strand Theater.
With this impressive resume, the acclaimed and accomplished Printz is clearly well qualified to handle Festival Opera’s last-minute cast change in the lead role of their production of “Carmen,” a story as relevant today as when it debuted in 1875.
Festival Opera’s Gordin, asked about the opera’s themes of sex, repression, abuse, violence and class struggles, says, “We have an opportunity to truly speak to our audience in a context of current social struggles with situations and scenes they would likely recognize from life in the Bay Area.
“Our ‘Carmen’ will display themes of class, sex, repression, individuality, divination, death and duende (charisma), all from the point of view of a woman and her friends truly seeking liberation.”