Jamie Barton & Stephanie Blythe Lead Chicago Opera Theater’s ‘Carmen’

By Francisco Salazar

The Chicago Opera Theater is set to open its season with Bizet’s “Carmen.”

The semi-staged production will give audiences a rare opportunity to hear two world-class dramatic mezzo-sopranos debut new roles opposite one another. Jamie Barton will make her role debut in the title role while Blythely Oratonio, the tenor alter ego of the legendary Stephanie Blythe, will sing his first Don José.

COT Music Director Lidiya Yankovskaya, who will conduct the semi-staged concert performances, said, “Though Bizet’s melodies are familiar to many opera-goers, this will be a very different perspective on an operatic classic. It’s also a unique opportunity to hear these inimitable artists exploring brand-new territory. Jamie Barton is long overdue in her debut as Carmen, and I’m thrilled that Stephanie Blythe will be joining us in a new role that fits her truly unusual voice like a glove.”

The company will present two free community events offered in the lead-up to opening night. On Tuesday, August 31, “What The Fach?” will explore the fluidity of vocal types, featuring a discussion between Stephanie Blythe, Anthony Roth Costanzo, and Aiden Feltkamp, who curated the recently published Anthology of New Music: Trans & Nonbinary Voices.

On Thursday, Sept. 9, the public will be invited to Center on Halsted, the Midwest’s most comprehensive LGBTQ community center, for Close-Up with “Carmen.” Featuring opera historian, dramaturg, and UCLA professor Dr. Katherine Syer, this conversation will focus on the history of cross-dressing in opera.

The production will also star Michael Sumuel, Kimberly E. Jones, Brandon Cedel, Rachel Blaustein, Leah Dexter, and Evan Bravos. Joachim Schamberger directs the production

“Carmen” will be performed on Sept. 16 and 18 with all attendees required to wear a mask covering both nose and mouth while inside the Harris Theater, which will be filled to a maximum of 60 percent capacity. Audiences will also need to show proof of full vaccination against COVID-19.