The annual Hellenic Festival begins on the final day of this month with a production of «Carmen» by the National Opera at the Herod Atticus Theater. The finishing touches are being put to the venue specifically for this performance, which appears to have received the mandatory approval of the Central Archaeological Council. Besides the May 31 premiere, a further four performances of Georges Bizet’s opera will be staged at the venue on June 1, 2, 3 and 5. «We were interested in making the audience feel it is part of the action in the performance, as if they are participating,» noted the production’s stage and costume designer, Alison Chitty, referring to the changes made at the ancient venue. «We shifted the story of Carmen to the year 2007 to establish a closer relationship with our audience,» she added at a recent news conference, which included a presentation of the modified theater. The stage has been elevated and extended forward to the fifth row of seats. The modernized production’s special effects will include a motorbike to be ridden by Carmen as well as the bodies of two cars, currently under construction. According to the National Opera’s artistic director, Stefanos Lazaridis, the idea of staging an updated «Carmen» at the Herod Atticus was first contemplated a year and a half ago. «I had thought about what I could do at the Herod Atticus. You’ve got to respect the venue for what it is, but you mustn’t use it like dead background,» noted Lazaridis. «A solution needed to be found. This wall that reminds of so much can be transformed in line with the nature and needs of each production. Carmen did exist. This is a true story. I felt the need to connect these different time-related aspects – a merger of now and then, the 19th century work, the ancient theater, and us.» One of the most popular operas of our times, Carmen, a work far ahead of its time, was written in 1875 by the Frenchman Georges Bizet. The music and libretto conjure up two highly credible lead characters, the beautiful, fiery Gypsy Carmen, who defiantly insists on her right to make her own choices, and the respectable Don Jose, who is transformed from a tepid lover to a passionate and jealous man, unable to accept the independence of a woman for whom he has abandoned everything. Denyce Graves and Victoria Maifatova will alternate as Carmen over the production’s five-night presentation. Graves is scheduled to perform June 1, 3 and 5 and Maifatova, May 31 and June 2. The role of Don Jose will be performed by Richard Crawley (June 1 and 3) and Michael Wade Lee (May 31, June 2 and 5).