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All of Seville will be a stage in this 'Carmen'

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The concept is simple yet brilliant. In September, the city of Seville will stage the opera "Carmen" on some of the very sites where the 19th- century story is set.

The blockbuster production is certainly ambitious. The open-air performance will require audiences to stretch their legs as much as their imaginations, since each act will take place in a different location.

It's opera modeled on a progressive dinner, if you like.

"Seville is the city of music, where more than 20 operas are set," says opera impresario Michael Ecker. "It is the perfect setting for 'Carmen,' the most often-performed opera in the world."

The production is the centerpiece of the First Seville International Music Festival (Sept. 2-12), which boasts an impressive roster of guests ranging from cellist Mstislav Rostropovich and pianist Lang Lang to the New York Philharmonic under the direction of Sir Colin Davis.

"We want to create a new combination of music, flamenco, and culture," says Mr. Ecker, who expects 80,000 people to attend the festival.

For now, Ecker's immediate attention is focused on the logistics of using the city's classic architecture to help recreate the story.

According to the novel upon which the opera is based, Carmen lived in Seville about 1820 and worked in the city's famous cigarette factory. There is no evidence that Carmen, a beautiful gypsy woman, ever existed, but the suspension of disbelief is a prerequisite for enjoying opera.

Ecker spared no expense on this production. With an overall budget of $21 million for the festival - part of which goes to the opera production - Ecker has been able to assemble an impressive team.

Spanish filmmaker Carlos Saura will direct the new staging, which will reflect life in Seville during the late 18th and 19th centuries. Lorin Maazel, music director for the New York Philharmonic, will conduct London's Philharmonia Orchestra, and more than 800 artists will participate. Singers such as Olga Borodina, Angela Gheorghiu, Denyce Graves, and Ekaterina Sementschuk will take turns in the role of Carmen.

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