Femme fatale

Thousands of productions of Carmen have been seen by millions of people collectively since the opera made its debut in Paris in 1875. Recently, Abu Dhabi's Emirates Palace hosted the opera's first Middle East performance. John Parnell reports.
Analysis, Content management


Despite stage production technology revolutionising the theatre industry in the two centuries since Carmen debuted at Paris' Opera Comique, most modern-day productions of the opera classic stick closely to the original concept in telling the tale of the eponymous femme fatale.

The Talent Brokers, a Dubai-based entertainment production and events promotion company, played a key role in bringing Carmen's International European Touring Cast to the Middle East.


A number of [equipment rental] firms are coming to terms with the commercial opportunities these productions provide - Lee.

The company's production co-ordinator, Angela Lee, was charged with the task of ensuring the production stayed true to its original concept.

Traditionally, operas are performed without the aid of microphones," she explains.

The performers don't typically like wearing them, but we always like to include them as an option. For Carmen, we used specialised Countryman WC6 theatre body pack microphones. They are very discreet items.

Carmen is the third theatre production staged by The Talent Brokers at Emirates Palace this year, following on from Aida and Chicago. Lee says the local industry is rapidly coming to terms with the demands of international theatrical touring productions.

Sourcing rudimentary equipment such as microphones and orchestral equipment typically created issues in regards to these earlier productions," she says.

Often, we would have to ship equipment in from Europe, which would create other challenges in regards to supply logistics.

Despite this, sourcing orchestral instruments in the UAE still proves particularly difficult, Lee explains.

We still have to look overseas for particular instruments, such as double basses and pianos. It's probably the most challenging aspect of staging a large-scale production such as Carmen. On this occasion we had to ship in a number of instruments. The one consolation was that we managed to source a harp from a local supplier.

The touring production shipped a 10m x 10m x 5m container to Dubai. This held the set and several of the larger instruments including the timpani drums, which Lee could not source locally.

The artists and the touring production crew have been very professional and cooperative," says Lee. "When we haven't been able to source equipment locally they have made arrangements to fly them in.

One high-tech addition to the production that has not always been available is large screen-based subtitling. Two Christie 8.5k projectors were used to project subtitles on to screens positioned either side of the stage. Two 61-inch plasma screens were also located in the balconies.

Carmen is a set in Spain but performed in French," explains Lee.

We wanted the audience to not only enjoy the performances but also to appreciate the story being told onstage. The Christie projectors are fantastic - the projected image is incredibly bright.

In terms of lighting, the show utilises a classical arrangement with three trusses holding 20 PAR 16, 20 PAR 32 and 60 PAR 64 lights. To the rear of the stage and behind the main set, an 18m x 13m cyclorama screen is washed with 18 sets of floodlights, each boasting four distinct colours. These are used to project various colours and images on the projection screen located to the rear of the stage to enhance the action on stage.

We've tried to keep the show very classical in terms of its presentation," says Lee. "We want to use the sound and light to focus the audience's attention on the performers, rather than on the sound and light itself.


In saying that, the priority is to ensure the performers are well lit to ensure the audience can see the facial expressions.

With the Emirates Palace production of Carmen capping a landmark year for performing arts in Abu Dhabi, Lee believes the stage is literally set for the UAE capital to cement its position as the GCC region's hub for international theatrical touring productions.

She also believes the experience of the past 12 months has taught local production rental companies a thing or two about what it takes to stage a major theatrical event.

In the past, we would contact a local production equipment rental firm about supplying kit for an opera and they would mostly ignore us," she says.

However, a number of firms are realising that these types of productions will be staged with increasing regularity in the UAE, and are coming to terms with the commercial opportunities they ultimately provide.


Carmen Kit List, Emirates Palace

Sourcing orchestral instruments in the Middle East is no easy task, as Angela Lee explains.


Cellists usually fly with their instruments which are delicate and very sensitive to temperature changes. The only way to transport them safely and securely is to purchase a seat for them on the aircraft. We took this approach when sourcing the cellos used in the production of the opera Aida. Unfortunately, most flights were full this time around, so we had to source the instruments locally, which was no easy task. Ultimately, we ended up using UK-made Santos cellos supplied by a Chinese vendor.


We couldn't fly a harp in with the musicians since they had to transfer flights. We ended up locating a harpist in Abu Dhabi who lent us her instrument. Since she also had to perform every day in another show, we had to transport the harp between venues. Fortunately, the harpist in question was performing in another part of the Emirates Palace Hotel.

Double Bass and Timpani

Sourcing these instruments highlighted the language barriers we faced in coordinating this production. Neither was listed on the show's air cargo sheet and we weren't asked to source them locally. It wasn't until the sea container arrived that we realised they had been shipped over. The touring production crew either didn't understand our request - the double bass is known as a Contrabasse in Europe - or they took it as a given that we wouldn't be able to source one locally. It is still a mystery how they knew to ship them over?!


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