With choruses that are as much a part of popular culture as any pop song on the radio today, Bizet’s “Carmen” is truly one of the most well-known and beloved operas of all time.

Georges Bizet’s compelling opera—teeming with dark passion and jealousy—opens Thursday, Feb. 7, at the West Virginia University Creative Arts Center. It is a joint production of the School of Music and the School of Theatre & Dance, with performances Feb. 7-8 at 7:30 p.m. and a matinee on Feb. 10 at 2 p.m.

The opera will be performed in English, with dialogue adapted from the original French version.

Carmen is a seductive, free-spirited factory worker who has set her sights on the already betrothed soldier, Don José. After Carmen injures a fellow worker, Don José is ordered to keep her jailed, and soon succumbs to her charms and his ultimate downfall.

Georges Bizet, born Alexandre-César-Léopold Bizet on Oct. 25, 1838, in Paris, France, is known for influencing the verismo school of opera, which became popular in the late 19th century. This innovative style utilized realistic characters who dealt with commonplace, everyday themes.

Bizet’s “Carmen”—based on Prosper Mérimée’s short story and having one of the world’s most recognizable scores—was deemed to have subject matter too immoral for the stage at the time of its 1875 premiere. Bizet died in the same year, quelling the scandal and posthumously receiving great critical acclaim.

Musical direction for “Carmen” is by professor Robert Thieme, director of the WVU Opera Theatre, and staging direction is by Dr. William Koehler of the School of Music’s voice program.

The scenic design for “Carmen” is by Theatre & Dance graduate student Jane Ryan, with lavish costumes designed by professor Mary McClung, and lighting design by professor Alan McEwen.

“We have set the production in 1950s Franco-era Spain, instead of the more traditional 1830s,” Koehler said. “Our production is also a bit different from shows this season due to its sheer size. The number of on-stage performers is roughly 60 people and when combined with the members of the orchestra, the designers, staff, and technical crew, we have a huge number of people working to make the show a success.”

The cast of “Carmen” includes Jennifer Berkebile as Carmen, Michael McCullough as Don José, Sharon Lankford as Micaela, Nicoletta Ciampa as Mercedes, Samantha DeStefano as Frasquita, Matthew Lightfoot as Remendado, Joshua Smith as Dancairo, and Theatre professor Lee Blair as Lillas Pastia.

In the role of Escamillo is guest artist Greg Pearson, professional opera singer and professor of private voice and music appreciation at Salt Lake Community College. Pearson received a Bachelor of Music degree from University of Arkansas (Monticello) and a master’s degree in vocal performance from the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. In addition to continuing as a frequent performer with Utah Symphony and Opera, as well as Opera Wildwood in his native Arkansas, Pearson also has plans to pursue his doctorate.

The Morgantown Children’s Choir, under the direction of Cyndi Bess, will also be featured in the production.

“Carmen” opens in the Lyell B. Clay Concert Theatre, Feb. 7 at 7:30 p.m., and continues Feb. 8 at 7:30 p.m., with a closing matinee on Feb. 10 at 2 p.m.

Tickets are $20 for the general public and $15 for senior citizens and students. There is a group rate of $10 per ticket for groups of 10 or more.

Tickets are available at www.ticketmaster.com, the CAC or Mountainlair Box Offices, or by calling 304-293-SHOW.

For more information on this production of “Carmen” please visit theatre.wvu.edu, call 304-293-2020, or email theatre@mail.wvu.edu.

An ongoing rehearsal blog is available on the School of Theatre & Dance website at http://ccarts.wvu.edu/theatreanddanceblog.