Skip to main content

The iconic opera Carmen is coming to a new stage - comic books

Photo from the 2016 Arizona Opera production of Carmen
Photo from the 2016 Arizona Opera production of Carmen (Image credit: Arizona Opera)

Carmen is considered one of the greatest operas of all time, and after being performed around the world it's coming to a new stage: comic books. 

Arizona Opera is partnering with writer/artist P. Craig Russell, artist Aneke, letterer Hassan Otsmane-Elahou, and opera singer/director Alek Shrader to adapt Georges Bizet's Carmen opera into a 90-page graphic novel to debut in 2022. Russell will be drawing the layouts for Carmen: The Graphic Novel, with Aneke finishing, illustrating, and coloring the pages. 

Carmen: The Graphic Novel cover (Image credit: Aneke (Arizona Opera))

"It is a thrill for Arizona Opera to share the work of this remarkable team of artists through the graphic novel format and the timeless story of Carmen," says Arizona Opera's president/general director Joseph Specter. "Throughout the pandemic, our company has constantly pursued novel approaches to connecting people through opera, when people need art and meaning the most. Carmen: The Graphic Novel represents an amazing opportunity to extend that focus on innovation, impact, and community."

Carmen is set in Spain during the early 1800s and centers on a soldier named Don José who falls in love with a prisoner - a Roma factory woman named Carmen. He allows her to escape from custody and eventually joins up with smugglers she's associated with. His romantic intentions for Carmen are blatant, but not shared by her - which drives him down a road of jealously that culminates in a battle between Don José and a bullfighter Carmen loves named Escamillo. 

The opera Carmen is written by Georges Bizet (based on the novella by Prosper Mérimée) and features a libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy.

Carmen (2021) poster

Carmen (2021) poster (Image credit: Arizona Opera)

"There's a reason that Carmen remains one of the most frequently performed operas," says Shrader. "Themes that were fashionable in Bizet's day still captivate audiences. There's a power struggle between the sexes, a meditation on the question of freedom versus fate, and a stark contrast between the exotic Roma lifestyle and a repressed society. And, of course, everything is set to some of the most gorgeous and tuneful music in all of opera."

A comic published by an opera company? It's unusual, but they have a plan. Carmen: The Graphic Novel came about through Arizona Opera's OnPitch Business Challenge, in association with Arizona State University's Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts and the WP Carey School of Business. Funding for the OnPitch program as a whole comes thanks to a grant from OPERA America, which in turn is supported by the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation.

"[Carmen is] the perfect opera for longtime opera aficionados and newcomers alike," Shrader continues. "And ultimately that's why I wanted to adapt Carmen with Arizona Opera. If you love Carmen, but are new to comics, you can appreciate the storytelling on the page. And if you are a comics fanatic but are new to opera, here's a book that practically sings."

A Kickstarter campaign for Carmen: The Graphic Novel will be launched in early 2022, and a pre-launch page is already live for people to sign up for updates. Carmen: The Graphic Novel's Kickstarter campaign is timed to coincide with upcoming performances of the opera by Arizona Opera in Phoenix (January 2022) and Tuscon (February 2022). 

Kickstarter is a thriving market for comics - here is a list of the most successful Kickstarter comics campaigns of all time.

Chris Arrant

Newsarama Senior Editor Chris Arrant has covered comic book news for Newsarama since 2003, and has also written for USA Today, Life, Entertainment Weekly, Publisher's Weekly, Marvel Entertainment, TOKYOPOP, AdHouse Books, Cartoon Brew, Bleeding Cool, Comic Shop News, and CBR. He is the author of the book Modern: Masters Cliff Chiang, co-authored Art of Spider-Man Classic, and contributed to Dark Horse/Bedside Press' anthology Pros and (Comic) Cons. He has acted as a judge for the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, the Harvey Awards, and the Stan Lee Awards. Chris is a member of the American Library Association's Graphic Novel & Comics Round Table. (He/him)