When Arizona Opera appealed to his community to come up with exciting new ways to get people into opera, tenor Alek Shrader won the pitch with an idea for a graphic novel based on an opera. But what opera? Shrader tells the story: “We all agreed to do a well-known opera for the first one. ‘Carmen’ was on their upcoming season, and it fit the bill perfectly. Even if you don’t know this opera, I hope you’ve heard of it, and I bet you’ll recognize some of the famous tunes.
The result is a Kickstarter campaign (already funded) for Carmen: the graphic novel.
Although this was Shrader’s first graphic novel, he was able to recruit industry veterans to help get him started. Father Craig Russell not only has a decades-long career as a comic book artist, but many of his previous works were adaptations of operas (I have a few). He’ll be in charge of story layout, while DC artist Aneke will handle the artwork, coloring, and more. The pages I’ve seen are beautifully done, and it promises to be a stunning way to engage with opera. Shrader says the book “would resonate with any reader who can relate to motivations like desire and freedom,” but, on a more practical level, adults and older children. As he notes, “It’s definitely a mature story, but there’s nothing here that hasn’t been done in Batman or a YA novel in terms of mature content.”
One thing I was wondering, though, is how do you translate not just an opera but an opera with some of the repertoire’s most recognizable music into a book. I asked Shrader about it and he walked me through his thought process. “It’s a true adaptation of Bizet’s opera,” he says, “and I was determined to follow the drama as it unfolds in the show, tunes and all. But I never intended to create an illustrated booklet, so by adapting the story of ‘Carmen,’ some moments have been abbreviated. One of the big things that makes sequence art such a powerful storytelling vehicle is that the reader controls the tempo (and the voice, and even the mood). Thus, all rogue monologues can be speeded up or slowed down at their discretion. Luckily, I work with the illustrious illustrator himself, living legend P. Craig Russell. Craig happens to be an opera enthusiast himself… and was invaluable in determining the pace and page space for these dramatic musical beats, while staying within the narrative of the libretto. When translating the text itself from French into English and Spanish, I would make cuts to condense the feeling but not lose the intent.
Whether you’re already a fan of opera, curious about it, or keen to make someone else curious about it, this graphic novel seems to be charming and something to cherish long after the curtain comes down.
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