Kara Cornell, above, will sing as Carmen when Hubbard Hall brings Bizet’s opera to Dorset Playhouse.
Kara Cornell, above, will sing as Carmen when Hubbard Hall brings Bizet's opera to Dorset Playhouse. (Courtesy of Hubbard Hall)

DORSET -- A fiery gypsy. A clueless young soldier and his commanding officer. A bullfighter. The girl next door.

Roll them all together and you have "Carmen," one of the best known operas of all time. Or rather, "opera comique," a style of opera that splices together spoken dialogue and singing.

Comic or not, sitings of any kind of opera are a relatively rare breed of entertainment fare regionally, but opera lovers need not despair completely.

The Dorset Playhouse will be the setting for a performance of "Carmen" Saturday, Feb. 1, when the Hubbard Hall Opera Theater will travel north by northeast from its home base in Cambridge, N.Y., to present a "condensed" version of the venerable classic.

Condensed means the production will bring in only the five main characters: Carmen the gypsy, Don Jose the soldier, Zuniga the captain, Escamillo the bullfighter and Micaela the village girl. A piano, and not a full orchestra, will provide the accompaniment for the musical score, which contains the well-known opera classics of the "Torreador Song" and "Habanera."

Even those who aren't familiar with opera may want to consider coming out to the Dorset Playhouse for one of the genre's iconic pieces, said Alix Jones, the artistic director of the Hubbard Hall Opera Theater.

Certain stories lend themselves better than others to scaled down versions, and "Carmen," with several recognizable songs, is one of them, she said.

"There's a lot of interest in opera, but it's not an easy form of entertainment to host," Jones said. "It can be more expensive than traditional theater."

"Carmen" tells a sad story of betrayal, heartbreak and revenge. Don Jose, the soldier, meets the sensual Carmen, who seduces him and gets him into trouble with his commanding officer. A month later, the pair meet up again, and Carmen forces a choice upon Don Jose -- her or his military duty. He chooses Carmen, even though he is already involved in what would today be known as a long-term relationship with Micaela, the village girl.

Meanwhile, the dashing bullfighter, Escamillo, has already entered the picture, and has his sights set on Carmen as well. Their affection for each other prospers, and they go off to the bullring together. Tragedy follows.

This will be the third time Hubbard Hall and the Dorset Players have teamed up to present a major theatrical production. In October 2012, they presented Puccini's "La Boheme," then, last fall, a night of Italian opera -- "Serenata Italiana." Both were successful and encouraged a third endeavor in the form of "Carmen," Jones said.

The main challenge to staging it comes in the form of the accelerated rehearsal timeframe. The performers immerse themselves in the show for about a week beforehand to prepare for their roles.

"It's sort of like reading ‘War and Peace' in a day," Jones said.

While "Carmen" could be taken out of 1820s Spain and interpreted with a modern flavor, the original story is so good that it's hardly necessary, Jones said.

"The story could take place in any time or place, but there's no reason to transpose it," she said.

The cast features Kara Cornell as Carmen, Alvaro Rodriguez as Don Jose, Patrick McNally as Zuniga, Charles Martin as Escamillo and Alex Rodda as Micaela.

Members of the Dorset Players, a community theatre group, will be helping with the lighting and the sound, said Lynne Werth, the president of the Dorset Players board of directors.

"It's a good exposure to opera," she said. "It's not a full-blown, three-hour opera, ... It's a taste of the highlights. There's a certain audience for everything here."

The opera will be sung in French, but the words and lyrics will be projected onto screens as "supertitles" in English, allowing those whose last exposure to French was back in high school to follow along. Or they can sit back and enjoy the music, Werth said.

"The music is so beautiful it doesn't matter what language it's in," she said.

If you go ...

What: 'Carmen' condensed

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 1

Where: Dorset Playhouse, 104 Cheney Road, Dorset, Vt.

Hubbard Hall's production of ‘Carmen' is a touring event, and they will perform it Sunday, at the University of Albany's performing arts center.

Admission: Tickets to the Dorset show are $40 and include a wine and tapas reception.

Information: (802) 867-5777.