Lyric Carmen Review - The Most Popular Opera in the World!

This is what you call a slam dunk review.  I have been handed the assignment of reviewing the most popular opera in the world produced by Chicago's renowned, world-class opera house, Lyric Opera of Chicago which is, by all accounts, the best production in Chicago in recent memory. Where do I begin?


Here are my favorite things about this thrilling operatic experience:
  1. Carmen is so accessible.  Snicker, snicker.  No, that was not a double entendre suggesting that she was easy, though there are those who would say so.  I'm saying that this is an opera you can immediately grasp, enjoy, and find captivating.  The projected English translations are most helpful, but the music, the acting and the body language eloquently communicate a rich text of pride, independence and passion that suffuse it with a thrilling grandeur. Nadia Krasteva's Carmen was sexy, beguiling, fiercely independent and, I think, capable of both love and loyalty.  She may have found the right guy but too late.  In her quest for him, she sang up a storm. Brandon Jovanovich made Don José come to life in both his tormented and romantic moments.  It was stunning the way his voice changed as he changed from loving to demanding to obsessed. And I was delighted to see Nicole Cabell in the role of Michaela. What a lovely role for Nicole and her voice--capable of delicacy in Act I and imposing in Act III. Kyle Ketelson's bass carries the macho first impression but transitions to seductive warmth for Escamillo's duet with Carmen in Act IV.

    Seville public square near the cigarette factory

  2. The plot is so engaging. Here's how Lyric describes it on its web page: "What could make a man cheat on his fiancée, drive his mother to tears, and ditch a good job? One woman — Carmen! She's the sex-bomb, gypsy seductress who loves them and leaves them — tossing egos and hearts in the dust." There you have it. 

    Nadia Krasteva (Carmen)and Brandon Jovanovich (Don José)

  3. The characterization is complex yet sympathetic. What's a girl to do?  Carmen doesn't want to go to jail!  And if she doesn't think (and flirt!) fast, that's where she's headed.  Poor, innocent Don José is no match for her.  Wait till you see how she manages to seduce him with her hands still tied behind her back. 

    Nadia Krasteva (Carmen) and Brandon Jovanovich (Don José)

  4. The plot thickens fast: Now Carmen's in love with Don José and is waiting for him at Lillas Pastia's tavern.  With her own, castanet-accompanied private dance and a wordless song.  A song so captivating she not only completely ensnares him, she ropes us in, too.   
     

    Lillas Pastia's tavern


    This is a sweet, moment in the opera. But, sadly, it's but a moment.
  5. The plot gets even thicker:The lovers leave for the mountainous hideout of the smugglers , my favorite set. Nope. I don't have a picture.  It's a huge, looming and menacing  and loaded with foreboding. You need to see it in person on the Lyric stage.  A photo would not do it justice. I even think the ravines look a bit like profiles of Carmen and Don José on their final face off.
  6. I did say the plot was engaging.  Don't write off Don José's sweet, virtuous fiancée, Michaela! She's courageous, determined and very much in love with him.  So much so that she risks her life to find him in his hideout with the smugglers. She deserves better!

    Nicole Cabell(Michaela) and

  7. For that matter, Carmen deserves better, too, and soon figures that out! Enter the the strutting macho Escamillo and Carmen's in love again!  Is this just another of her flings? Is Escamillo the love of her life? Sure looked like the real thing from where I sat.

    Escamillo in Lillas Pastia's tavern


    8, 9, 10: THE MUSIC! THE MUSIC! THE MUSIC!
    Bizet's music--every note from the arresting prelude to the recurring, haunting five note "fate motif"-- is breathtaking. 
    And the power and finesse of the Lyric orchestra coupled with those magnificent singers made musical magic. Hurry!  Only limited tickets are available and the opera closes on March 27. Visit lyricopera.org


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