LA Opera’s Carmen is the opening production of the 2013-2014 season. With Placido Domingo himself conducting opening night, along with the innate popularity of the opera and recognizable music, it seems like a winner for the opera company. We enjoyed this production immensely in 2004 and 2008 (see our 2008 coverage http://www.lasplash.com/publish/Los_Angeles_Performances_116/Carmen_at_LA_Opera_-_Review.php). But even with the same sets and choreography, along with seasoned performers, this new viewing does not make the mark. It’s lacking the passion and thrill of its former production and seems disjointed in many ways.
Georja: To me, besides the thrilling music, the very passionate, liberated character of Carmen herself makes the piece exciting. Her gypsy-like character, rooted in her sensual flamenco movements, can be breathtaking. But in this version, the cast, made up almost entirely of singers of northern European descent, and led by a young American director Trevore Ross, lacks the Spanish character the piece so desperately needs.
Because Bizet’s Carmen is written and sung entirely in French, it almost cries out for Latin performers, or at least those who can inhabit a Latin flavor in their performances, to bring it to life. Our leading lady, the lovely mezzo-soprano Patricia Bardon, lacks the fire, the movements and dare I say the acting chops to show the many complex sides of her character. I found her performance to be cold and confusing. Each scene was played with the same posing, and I could never tell if she truly loved or was gaming, if she truly was a revolutionary or just a sham person. Even though in the end she is willing to die for love, it is played the same as all the other scenes, and hard to empathize.
Gerald: This is a story about passionate Spaniards in Seville, written in French, presented as Italian-style grand opera. Even for Europeans, I bet it’s an odd combination. However, it’s always been extremely popular. For one thing, it’s a steamy story about a hot hussy. And also, the music is melodic and memorable. For a lot of people, and not just opera lovers, there may be more familiar tunes in this show than in any other opera.
Georja: In the beginning I felt almost the same lack of passion in Carmen’s lover, Don Jose, played opening night by Brandon Jovanovich, whose approach seemed stilted and unreal as well. But as the story progressed, so did his ardor, and we were able to feel his emotions much more. One could feel his increasing desperation.
Gerald: Don Jose is a straight-laced, by-the-book military man who just can’t help himself when Carmen decides to seduce him. Of all the characters, he changes most by the end of the story. In the beginning, although he’s shown as a leader, he’s rather callow and unimaginative. He’s devoted to his fiance and his mother. But once he decides to shirk his official duties and run off with Carmen, he’s daring and even rash. And in the end, even though he proves himself an utter fool for love, I think we respect him for staying true to his passion.
Georja: As the lead character, it should be Carmen who changes the most. In any case, the dashing Ildebrando d’Arcangelo as Escamillo the bullfighter brings a rush of energy to the stage when he appears in the second act.
Gerald: The character of Escamillo is written as a basically one-dimensional character. Pure machismo. But I enthusiastically agree that, when d’Archangelo walks onstage, he steals the show. I suppose that’s not surprising, since he’s often a leading man, as he was so dashingly on the Los Angeles stage last season as Don Giovanni.
Georja: And Pretty Yende as Micaela brings heartfelt emotions and believability to her role, along with her gorgeous clear soprano. We hope to see more of her. Hae Ji Chang brings character and humor to her role as Frasquita and is also a welcome addition to the cast.
Gerald: Yende is another scene stealer. The fourth act is fairly troublesome in any production of Carmen because it’s set in the frozen mountains, in sharp contrast to the warm, festive settings of the other scenes. She got a chorus of bravas from the audience on her solo, and I couldn’t help imagining her as Carmen, especially since other divas of color, including Leontyne Price, Jessye Norman, and Denyce Graves, have famously played the role. (Note: Yende is a soprano, and Carmen is written for a mezzo-soprano.)
Georja: Many scenes include a huge choral presence, which greatly enhances the beauty and story. The children’s chorus is also a charming part of the production. Costumes (Jesus del Pozo) are wonderful and get more vibrant as the story progresses. One only wishes that the emotional life had the same momentum.
Gerald: LA Opera is bringing back two other “old favorites” this season, The Magic Flute and Lucia di Lammermoor. Here’s looking forward, hopefully, to invigorating, fresh takes on that familiar material.
Georja Umano is an actress and animal advocate.
Gerald Everett Jones is the author of the Rollo Hemphill series of comic novels.
Photos by Robert Millard for LA Opera
Carmen by Georges Bizet
Los Angeles Opera
135 N. Grand Ave.
Los Angeles, CA
(213) 687-3490 fax
5 Evenings @ 7:30pm:
Saturday, Sept 21, 2013
Thursday, Sept 26, 2013
Saturday, Sept 28, 2013
Tuesday, Oct 1, 2013
Friday, Oct 4, 2013
2 Matinees @ 2pm:
Sunday, Sept 29, 2013
Sunday, Oct 6, 2013
Tickets from $19