Variety Life Productions Founder Kaitana Magno Adapts Carmen for Public Arts

A classic opera blossoms as a 360-degree theatrical experience

Today, one finds non-traditional museums dedicated to feelings, colors and even ice cream. Meanwhile, theater continues to break from its rectangular stage too. Our new cultural institutions defy their histories and, in doing so, embolden a whole new generation of the curious. As such, and with contemporary depth, opera is now experiencing the same revitalization as immersive theater. Inside the Public Hotel‘s future-forward venue Public Arts, the classic opera Carmen came to life (and hopefully will again) under the direction of Variety Life Productions.

Queen of the Night associate director Kaitana Magno segued her experience with that wildly popular dinner theater extravaganza into the Carmen adaptation (as well as the co-founding of Variety Life Productions). She lifted the characters from southern Spain and set them in a place and time inspired by Havana’s Tropicana Club during the ’50s. Under Magno’s superlative direction, the performance unfolds in the round—with, as implied, 360 degrees of spectacle. Between live music and the collision of various dance styles, and electricity turbo-charges each performance. All the while, attendees sit or stand along the venues two levels, sipping cocktails or champagne.

Carmen has seen many adaptations, but none quite like Magno’s. “The lead character’s inner fabric,” she explains to us about her desire to take on the Bizet source material, and “Her desire to be free” are central. Magno relates to the “specific context of her being trapped and yearning to find a way out,” she says, “I feel like this story needs to be told right now. It’s relevant and has a personal and powerful meaning for me as a woman.”

Here, operatic voices have been traded for dance-forward performances. “By calling it dance-forward, you are also saying that it isn’t just a dance show,” she continues, “Which it isn’t. There is so much more happening in it. Everyone has a different take. The live concert aspect, the acting—there are 72 dramatic scenes in the show taking place all over the venue throughout the evening—the immersive aspect, the world-class cabaret acts, the nightclub setting” No corner is left untouched—or inactivated. That’s certainly a strength.

Magno began as a dancer and her familiarity with its emotional gravity carries into her direction and production. The expression of dance is extraordinarily moving when done well, and it poses a great challenge to have the opportunity to present it in a way that is accessible to an audience beyond solely the dance community,” she says, acknowledging that it is the heart of the show. Magno worked with six choreographers: Chelsea Ainsworth, Jessica Castro, Desiree Godsell, Adesola Osakelumi, Doron Perk, and Max Pollak. She adds, “Their individual interpretations of the concept were colors that I utilized as contributions to the overarching piece.”

Ultimately, there’s unwavering energy to the performance that commences for attendees before the dance scenes do and ends only when everyone has left Public Arts. This was Magno’s mission: “Balancing the chaos of a nightclub atmosphere with the nature of the production that we have provided is definitely not for the faint of heart. The way that it is designed now is specifically catered to the architecture of the venue and the idea of the attendees being guests at the club. We have integrated the audience into the show itself so they essentially become a part of the event unfolding around them in real time and essentially they dictate the energy and effectiveness of the performance.” And that level is undeniably high.

Carmen, To Havana and Back will run again 26-27 April and select days through May 2019. Tickets can be purchased online.

Images courtesy of Adrian Buckmaster