Inventive 'Carmen' still true to ideals
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Long strings of beads greeted audience members as they walked into the Kountz Black Box Theater at Shady Side Academy for Opera Theater's performance of "Carmen."
Inside, a band was shrouded in a wide bead curtain. When Carmen arrived on stage, her first action was to swipe at that same set of beads.
So, what's with the beads?
This version of Georges Bizet's "Carmen," developed by director Jonathan Eaton and conductor/pianist Robert Frankenberry, was designed to highlight some of the less stuffy and more sultry elements of the opera. Mr. Frankenberry's re-orchestration featured flamenco guitar and accordion; the performance included abundant dancing and romancing.
But what made SummerFest's "Carmen" successful was passionate singing matched by authentic emotion -- the fundamentals of strong operatic performance.
Reminiscent of a bullring, the box theater immediately drew in the audience. Whenever Carmen (Kara Cornell) came on stage, she might as well have licked her lips, hungry to command the other characters and mesmerize the audience (both of which she did successfully). In balancing the various demands of her character, Ms. Cornell could have been louder and more consistent in the lower part of her register. Overall, however, she kept the opera's promise of sultriness.
As Don José, James Flora was understated at first, but the tenor started to sparkle after his skillful performance of the "Flower Song." In the final scene, when his character was about to kill Carmen, Mr. Flora's sense of desperation was pitch-perfect.
As Carmen's romantic rival Micaëla, Shannon Kessler Dooley was a knockout. The soprano beautifully conveyed her character's despair with a bell-like texture and dynamic flexibility.
As Escamillo, Daniel Teadt gave a fiery performance of the famous "Toreador Song." What initially served as an upbeat ego-booster for the bullfighter became a haunting symbol of Don José's imminent fall when, in a later scene, Escamillo sang it again from off-stage in one of the more inventive moments of the performance.
Translated from the original French, the English libretto was suitable, though the spoken dialogue was stilted, drawing attention to the decidedly un-sultry nature of English. The band lacked the fullness of an orchestra, highlighting pitchiness that might otherwise be masked. The opera's clumsy moments did not, however, detract from its overall power.
If this version sounds a bit R-rated, note that the matinee will be toned down for younger audience members.
First Published July 2, 2012 12:38 am