PHOENIX (March 28, 2022) – Perhaps the most famous opera in history, Georges Bizet’s Carmen premiered in 1875 at the Opéra-Comique in Paris. The four-act opera, featuring a libretto written by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy and adapted from the novella by Prosper Mérimée, remains one of the most exciting and popular works in the repertoire. And now, nearly 150 years later, the story of Carmen is being adapted again — this time as CARMEN: THE GRAPHIC NOVEL, written by opera singer and director Alek Shrader and illustrated by legendary artist P. Craig Russell (NEIL GAIMAN’S AMERICAN GODS) and Aneke (BYLINES IN BLOOD), and lettered by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou. Arizona Opera is launching a Kickstarter campaign for this ambitious adaptation which is live now.
“It’s a thrill for Arizona Opera to share the work of this remarkable team of artists through the graphic novel format and the timeless story of Carmen,” said Joseph Specter, Arizona Opera’s President and General Director. “Throughout the pandemic, our company has constantly pursued novel approaches to connecting people through opera, when people need art and meaning the most. CARMEN: THE GRAPHIC NOVEL represents an amazing opportunity to extend that focus on innovation, impact, and community.”
As part of the campaign, Arizona Opera has commissioned some of the most acclaimed artists in comics to create collectible Kickstarter-exclusive prints to celebrate CARMEN: THE GRAPHIC NOVEL. There are three CARMEN prints from New York Times bestselling cartoonist and illustrator Colleen Doran (Neil Gaiman’s SNOW, GLASS, APPLES), Erica Henderson (SQUIRREL GIRL), and Marguerite Sauvage (FAITH) and three collectible prints for other operas which Arizona Opera will stage in 2022: an ARIADNE AUF NAXOS print by Natacha Bustos (MOON GIRL AND DEVIL DINOSAUR), a TOSCA print from Erica d’Urso (INFERNO GIRL RED) and colorist Marissa Louise (GRUMBLE), and a MAGIC FLUTE print by Ana Mirallès (DJINN).
CARMEN: THE GRAPHIC NOVEL is the passion project of writer Alek Shrader, an operatic tenor and director, who is best known for his appearance in The Audition, a documentary about the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. For his first graphic novel, Shrader collaborated with the New York Times bestselling illustrator P. Craig Russell, who is renowned both for his graphic novel adaptations of Neil Gaiman’s novels, and his acclaimed adaptations of opera, including Mozart’s The Magic Flute, Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, and Wagner’s Ring Cycle. For CARMEN: THE GRAPHIC NOVEL, P. Craig Russell provides the layouts, which are finished, illustrated, and colored by Aneke, who has drawn comics for DC Comics and Marvel. CARMEN: THE GRAPHIC NOVEL is planned as an epic 90-page adaptation, featuring a stunning cover illustrated and colored by Aneke.
“There’s a reason that Carmen remains one of the most frequently performed operas,” said Shrader. “Themes that were fashionable in Bizet’s day still captivate audiences. There’s a power struggle between the sexes, a meditation on the question of freedom versus fate, and a stark contrast between the exotic Roma lifestyle and a repressed society. And, of course, everything is set to some of the most gorgeous and tuneful music in all of opera.”
“What appeals to me most about Carmen is the strength of her character,” said Aneke. “Her timeless appeal to audiences transcends time, politics, and societal change. Through her strength, we see her vulnerability, passion, and sexuality exude from the stage. Through a graphic novel, new audiences can be introduced to one of the most well-known, fearless women in opera.”
The development of CARMEN: THE GRAPHIC NOVEL originated through Arizona Opera’s OnPitch Business Challenge, created in association with ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts and the W. P. Carey School of Business. Funding for OnPitch was made possible by an Innovation Grant from OPERA America, through the generous support of the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation. OPERA America’s Innovation Grants support exceptional projects that have the capacity to improve the vibrancy of opera in the field’s most important areas of practice, with a focus on empowering organizations to increase their investment in experimentation and innovation and contribute to field-wide learning.
“CARMEN is the perfect opera for longtime opera aficionados and newcomers alike,” said Shrader. “And ultimately that’s why I wanted to adapt Carmen with Arizona Opera. If you love Carmen, but are new to comics, you can appreciate the storytelling on the page. And if you are a comics fanatic but are new to opera, here’s a book that practically sings.”
About the Creators
Alek Shrader (writer) is an opera singer and director, best known for his appearance in THE AUDITION, a documentary about the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. He has been performing and directing professionally since 2004. He is a lifelong comic book fan, and a writer. This is his first opera adaptation.
P. Craig Russell (layout artist) is an Eisner and Harvey award-winning comics artist, writer, and illustrator. His expansive body of work ranges from DC’s Detective Comics, Marvel’s Doctor Strange, and Dark Horse’s Hellboy, to his own adaptations of Kipling’s Jungle Book Stories and The Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde. He has created several adaptations of classical music and opera, including Mozart’s Magic Flute, R. Strauss’s Salome, and Wagner’s Ring cycle. He is a frequent collaborator with Neil Gaiman (The Sandman, American Gods, Norse Mythology) and Mike Mignola (creator of Hellboy).
Aneke (penciller, inker, colorist) is a Spanish illustrator whose work has appeared in both DC Comics and Marvel publications including Catwoman, Wonder Woman, Justice League, Suicide Squad, and VALERIA Age Of Conan. Her credits also include Vampirella, Red Sonja, Battlestar Galactica 1880 for Dynamite Entertainment as well as Judge Anderson and Venus Bluegenes for 2000AD, among many other projects. She is an enthusiast of music, cinema, art, science, and, of course, a lover of comics!
Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou is a British/Algerian letterer, who has worked on comics like, Time Before Time, What’s the Furthest Place From Here?, and Red Sonja. He’s also the editor of the Eisner-winning PanelxPanel magazine and voice behind Strip Panel Naked.
About Arizona Opera
Arizona Opera entered its 50th Season in fall of 2021, producing fully-staged operas, concerts, and collaborative programs throughout the state of Arizona each season, and it’s among only a handful of companies in the U.S. that regularly performs in more than one city. Arizona Opera elevates the transformative power of storytelling through music, cultivating community, and strengthening a state and people as adventurous and diverse as the place they call home. Since its inaugural year in 1971, Arizona Opera has produced more than 200 fully-staged operas and concerts. The company’s artistic history is rich with a blend of opera’s traditional repertoire featuring baroque, bel canto, and verismo works, turn-of-the-century masterpieces, operettas, and American operas.
Set in Seville around the year 1830, the opera deals with the love and jealousy of Don José, who is lured away from his duty as a soldier and his beloved Micaëla by the Roma factory-girl Carmen, whom he allows to escape from custody. He is later persuaded to join the smugglers with whom Carmen is associated, but is driven wild by jealousy. This comes to a head when Carmen makes clear her preference for the bullfighter Escamillo. The last act, outside the bull-ring in Seville, brings Escamillo to the arena, accompanied by Carmen, there stabbed to death by Don José, who has been awaiting her arrival.
This production of Carmen is part of the Arizona Opera Main Stage Series. Production made possible, in part, through generous support from Marlys A. Beider, Sherry Middlemas, and the Tucson Desert Song Festival.