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Commentary

Christine Rice as Carmen and Aris Argiris as Escamillo [Photo by Mike Hoban courtesy of The Royal Opera]
04 Jun 2010

Aris Argiris debuts as Escamillo in the Royal Opera House's Carmen

Aris Argiris makes his debut at Covent Garden as Escamillo in Bizet’s Carmen. But this is unusually high-profile because it's a first, being filmed in 3D.

An Interview with Aris Argiris

Above: Christine Rice as Carmen and Aris Argiris as Escamillo [Photo by Mike Hoban courtesy of The Royal Opera]

 

The Royal Opera House is having this Carmen filmed in 3D digital technology, pioneered by RealD who were behind James Cameron‘s hit Avatar. 3D is higher grade than the current 2D High Definition, so it should make the experience even more dynamic.

Such a debut would put pressure on any young singer, but Aris Argiris, the 35 year old baritone, is resilient. In 1999, he won the Maria Callas Scholarship in Athens and in 2002 won the Kammeroper Schloss Reinsberg prize. He’s steadily building a solid career, singing in Berlin, Leipzig, Dortmund, Bonn, Brussels, Tokyo and Ghent. Currently, he’s based in Frankfurt.

“Escamillo is a Toreador, he’s not afraid”, says Argiris. “He gets charged by bulls all the time, so he stays calm, even when José pulls a knife on him. His job is to fight bulls, not to kill men. It’s not worth his time. He thanks Carmen for saving him, but actually he’s already getting up. Next minute, he forgets about the duel, and thinks ahead, inviting everyone to the next bullfight.”

“Escamillo is a big star, all around him people are singing “Vivat! vivat!”, so he has to give them the kind of show they want. Why do people like watching blood, danger death? I don’t know. But Escamillo gives them a thrill. Both he and Carmen are the centre of attention, they have to give their public a dramatic image, so they both have these wonderful arias. So Votre toast, je peux vous le rendre is Escamillo’s Habanera”.

“But Escamillo knows that in the bullring, he is alone with the bull. Real Toreadors are very young”, adds Argiris, “Seventeen, maybe 21, but they have to be young, like footballers, because they have to move fast. They can’t grow old or the bull kills them”. The aria is full of thrills, but also “un œil noir”. Someone, something is watching the Toreador. Is his fate love ? As Carmen sings, love is a wild bird that cannot be trapped. And bulls have dark eyes too.

“Escamillo acts like he doesn’t care, but he is a deep person. Carmen too, acts like a devil, but there is something more in her. She is a bit like Don Giovanni, everyone wants to be with her, but everyone gets hurt. So she’s a challenge to someone like Escamillo who shows no fear. The moment they see each other, the whole atmosphere changes, even though she pretends to be haughty. The meeting is fatal, because it’s the beginning of the end for Carmen”.

“What they feel is ursprunglich, it comes from deepest parts of the soul. At this moment, nothing else matters, they can’t think rationally or about consequences, it’s pure instinct”.

“Their love duet must be the shortest love duet in the whole repertoire, only a page and a half. They sing in unison, but it only lasts a moment, like their love, which will end too soon. There’s nothing like it between Carmen and José”. In the middle of the interview, Argiris bursts into song, he’s so moved. “Listen how it ends with a modulation. It cannot go forward because their love will not go forward. It’s amazing how Bizet writes it, it’s deliberate. He’s telling us that this love cannot be fulfilled. The moment is short, but it’s so important, and it’s cut with strange harmonies from the orchestra”.

“And look”, Argiris adds, “how Escamillo shows his love for Carmen to the whole world, without fear. She was a gypsy and was a smuggler, but now she is the Toreador’s Lady, and she has the best seat on the horse. She is someone important. Yet at that moment of triumph, she is killed. So it’s not an accident that, when Carmen dies, the Toreador melody is heard again. In the distance Escamillo has killed another bull. The crowd cheer, but he has lost, because he has lost Carmen”.

Argiris is so engaged with the part that I ask him how he prepares. “I had golden advice”, he says, “from older singers. Do your homework, they said, learn everything you possibly can about the role, the opera, the composer, the music, the time the composer lived in, and so on. And when you have absorbed all that, trust the music, follow it, let it become part of your nature”.

Argiris listens extensively to the great voices of the past and present. He used to play an instrument before he started singing, which makes him sensitive to the orchestra. He reads, too. Since Escamillo doesn’t appear in Prosper Mérimée’s novel, that indicates something about Bizet’s perspective on the role. “But you’re only human, you can’t know everything”, he adds. “You go into an rehearsal with an open mind. That’s why I love the give and take that goes into a production, The director, the singers, the Maestro, everyone is involved”.

Understanding the background also made him realize why the opera was badly received at its premiere. “There is something revolutionary about it”, he says, “ahead of the fashion of the time”. Now, of course, it’s probably the most popular opera of all, and permeates into popular culture all over the world.

Perhaps The Royal Opera House has chosen this production of Carmen by Francesca Zambello for filming in 3D because it’s visually spectacular. “It’s so beautiful”, says Argiris, “Zambello understands that people want to see an opera as well as hear it, because it’s music theatre. It’s exciting because it’s larger than life”.

“It’s wonderful working with this production, everyone is helping each other, everyone is contributing to making the performance work. His enthusiasm is heartfelt. “I’m so honoured to be a part of this”, he says.I know he isn’t just saying that as routine. He means it sincerely. Aris Argiris is still very young to be facing such a debut. But like Escamillo, he has courage and spirit. It’s important to support and encourage young singers because they are the future. If they’re nurtured well, they develop, and everyone benefits in the long run.

Anne Ozorio

This Royal Opera House Carmen starts on 5th June and runs for six performances to 26th June 2010. For more details see www.roh.org.uk. The performance on 8th June will be broadcast live on Big Screens all over the UK. There will also be a Sing Along event connected to this screening. Please see the Royal Opera House site for more information. The 3D film will be shown from Autumn 2010.

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