WHAT: London City Opera production of the Georges Bizet opera
WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Shea's Performing Arts Center, 647 Main St.
ADMISSION: $20 to $55
Martin McEvoy, director of the London City Opera, wants everyone in the world to see an opera and like it.
That's why he chooses his weapons with care. His company has toured with "Die Fledermaus," the frothy Johann Strauss operetta that many have come to associate with New Year's Eve. And with "The Magic Flute," Mozart's irresistible mix of Egyptian imagery and German fairy tale.
Now it's time for the heavy artillery. Georges Bizet's "Carmen," which the London City Opera will be bringing to Shea's Performing Arts Center on Saturday, can arguably claim the title of the world's most popular opera. Certainly it's a great Valentine's Day drama.
Why? Well, the story, which is set in Spain, runs like a sultry soap: Carmen, a spitfire girl who works in a cigarette factory, seduces Don Jose away from his girl-next-door girlfriend, Micaela. But she breaks his heart so she can move on to more alluring men, men like the he-man bullfighter, a sort of World Wrestling Federation figure.
The arias in "Carmen" are so well known that anyone who watches TV commercials will recognize at least a couple of them. Most people can hum the "Habanera," the sexy song Carmen sings to lure Don Jose. There's also the famous "Toreador Song," in which the bullfighter flexes his muscles. And the "Gypsy Song," which drew vulgar laughter in "There's Something About Mary."
"Carmen" features gore on a Wes Craven scale. But then, operagoers learn to expect that.
"All the people get stabbed, or jump off a cliff, don't they?" jokes director McEvoy, on the phone from London.
It's the opera company's job, McEvoy says, to bring out the emotions behind the action.
"At the end of the opera when Carmen is killed, she has been such a great actress you want her to die," he says. "She's been so manipulative and horrible to Don Jose. In the play the opera comes from, she's a gypsy witch," he explains. "She's very sexy, of course, but very manipulative. You see the power women have over us. But we don't admit it. We don't like to admit it," he adds, laughing.
McEvoy becomes serious as he discusses what is, for him, the most difficult scene to stage.
"The final scene, when Don Jose comes back," he muses. "He was a very young man, an innocent man, an affable man - and when he comes back, he's completely drained. He's destitute; he has fallen in love with this woman. Carmen, who has been so alluring and sexy, can't stand him. She has gone on to her next boyfriend, she's playing it cool and aloof, she wants him to go away. And this poor broken man . . ."
Scenes like that one, McEvoy says, require singers to act as well as sing. It's no wonder that he sighs, "Opera is the most difficult art form to pull off correctly."
Talking to McEvoy is like talking to Hugh Grant. He doesn't stammer, but he has that English charm, and he laughs easily as he discusses his life's work.
McEvoy, who is 49, built his opera career as a singer. He sang with the Sadler Wells Opera Company, the light opera outfit that specializes in Gilbert and Sullivan. (One part he particularly savored was Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner in "The Mikado.")
He got involved with opera on a grander scale six years ago because, he says simply, he got bored.
"When you're a full-time singer, and when you're on tour, you live for curtain up every night," he says. "And I found that days on tour, I'd be getting bored, looking for something else. So I started an opera company."
At first, McEvoy called his company Crystal Clear Opera. "I wanted it to be just that - clear, precise, available and affordable to everyone," he says.
"We spent four years touring the UK, taking it everywhere where people didn't usually hear opera. We did corporate work for Lord Mayor of London," he says, his British accent giving the title a thrilling pomp. "And the Princess Royal, and Prince Charles. When they knew we were going abroad, certain people told us, you can use the title London City Opera."
The company's name might have changed, but its goal remains the same: to take opera to the opera-deprived. McEvoy hopes to give audiences their first glimpse of opera. "I think that's the vital thing," he says. "If they don't like it, it doesn't matter. At least they've been."
McEvoy has no yen to return to singing. "I like doing the whole," he jokes. "I'm a megalomaniac."
He beams as he discusses operas that ignite his passion, operas perfect for the first-time operagoer. Puccini's romantic "La Boheme," for instance. Or Rossini's "The Barber of Seville." "Very, very funny," McEvoy sighs, appreciatively.
No "Goetterdaemmerung"? "That would be fun, wouldn't it? A laugh a minute," McEvoy cracks.
He does, however, dream of borrowing a condensed Nuremberg production of Wagner's "Ring of the Nibelungs" cycle of four operas ("Goetterdaemmerung" is the fourth). It's boiled down from four nights to a manageable two, and would be that much less intimidating.
Meanwhile, as he continues on his chosen path, he'll never get bored.
"All the Mozarts, the Figaros," he says, dreamily. "Lots and lots of