CARMENComposed by Georges Bizet
Libretto by Ludovic Halevy and Henri Meilhac
Sung in French with English and Spanish supertitles
2017 Fort Worth Opera Festival
Fort Worth Opera
Conductor – Joe Illick
Director – David Lefkowich
Scenic Designer – R. Keith Brumley
Lighting Designer – Chad R. Jung
Sound Designer – Ra Byn Taylor
Makeup and Wig Designer – Robin Daffinee Coulonge
Stage Manager – Gina Hays
Assistant Stage Manager – Jerry K. Smith
Assistant Stage Manager – Miranda Wilson
Repetiteur – Matthew Stephens
English Supertitles – Courtesy of Arizona Opera
Spanish Supertitles Translation – Gabriela Lomónaco
Morales – Trevor Martin
Micaela – Kerriann Otano
Zuniga – Wm. Clay Thompson
Don Jose – Robert Watson
Carmen – Audrey Babcock
Frasquita – Christina Pecce
Mercedes – Anna Laurenzo
Lillas Pastia – Andrew Surrena
Escamillo – Craig Irvin
LeDancaire – Alex DeSocio
Le Remendado – Brian Wallin
Reviewed Performance: 4/22/2017
Reviewed by Laurie Lynn Lindemeier, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Even the most casual of opera lovers will likely recognize a good portion of the melodies in this work, but remember please resist the urge to sing along—it’s bad form in the opera world. Yes, they have rules just like the golf course does: don’t unwrap your hard candy during soft arias and if you must clear your throat then do it while the timpani crashes in the overture.
Anyway, if you’ve never heard the sexy “Habanera” or the “Toreador Song” you could very well have lived under a rock much of your life. If so, I hope it was a rock on a wild mountain pass in Spain in 1820 where this opera is set, so that you might have been able to peek out from under your rock to observe the spicy Carmen and her band of smugglers transporting contraband with her help to woo the border patrol. Carmen as portrayed by mezzo Audrey Babcock would surely make you crawl out and take notice. Babcock certainly did seem to have that effect on the audience in Fort Worth on opening night. She’s no stranger to the role and it showed. Babcock’s voice made one want to put sultry in all caps. She was engaged and reacted to every movement and person on the stage at all times. Carmen brought the best or perhaps the worst out of each man that fell in love with her throughout the three and half hours. All the guys followed her around like chiwawas, and yet she never let any one man possess her. Such is the fantastical character that Babcock encapsulated for us on the stage. Her male leads were fine voices but Babcock’s acting skills and voice carried the performance of the strong minority woman.
Carmen’s first victim, or should we say lover, was the soldier Don Jose sung by Robert Watson. Bizet gave this character extraordinarily difficult music and Watson was up for the task with his potent tenor tones. He displayed anger, confusion, and love… for his mother, but the chemistry was borderline milquetoast between him and Carmen. I waited for the fireworks moment when their eyes might lock, but it just didn’t happen. Nonetheless, the strength of Watson’s fine performance came from his effortless command of the notes.
The proper (mother approved) love interest that Don Jose never appreciated was the demure Micaela sung by Kerriann Otano who has quite a bit of fire in her soprano tones for such a sweet little village girl. Her girl-next- door sickeningly sweet smile contrasted in a strangely interesting way with her bold soprano sound. There’s not a lot of rhyme and reason for her character’s actions, i.e., to be so unflinchingly loyal to Don Jose despite his running off with a low-class woman. But that’s opera for you… not much of it is reasonable and that’s the charm of it.
At any rate, I enjoyed this production immensely—both the saccharine and the sensual elements. The entr’acte was softly and gently played by the orchestra under Joe Illick’s baton. The music lulled me to cloud “thirteen” or so. In fact, about twenty-three years ago this entr’acte was the first selection on the mixed tape that I created to play during my daughter’s birth. My intent was for her to come into the world with beautiful sounds filling her newborn ears. Carmen’s entr’acte had always been the most gentle and soothing piece of music that I’d ever heard and my obvious selection of choice for this birth-tape. On go-into-labor day we took off for the hospital close to midnight but had to turn around after a mile or so to come back and retrieve the tape and player that I’d forgotten. When one is in labor and en route to the hospital, not many things make you turn around the car… but my love for Bizet’s entr’acte did! Mr. Illick and the orchestra did it wonderful justice.
Another lover in Carmen’s lineup was the Toreador, Escamillo sung by Craig Irvin, a tall drink of a baritone who strutted and sang as commandingly as a bullfighter should. He was quite gracious to take the arm of the mayor or Fort Worth, Betsy Price, when, for a brief moment, she walked onto stage and joined the villagers as they departed. To see a woman in a black dress and pumps walk into the drama was shocking, but it only lasted a few seconds and, then, it was on with the show. Carmen appeared bewildered, and so was I.
Director David Lefkowich did a fine job directing the chorus which is sometimes an under-developed part of an opera’s drama. However, I loved watching the chorus perform because they actually became a thriving element of each scene in which they took part. There were no useless block crowd movements to bore the eye, but, instead natural and motivated movement with strong singing.
Carmen’s companions, Mercedes sung by Anna Laurenzo, and Frasquita sung by Christina Pecce were apt provocative protégé’s of her who sensually teased the doting soldiers and village men and gleefully manipulated their melodies. Trevor Martin sang a forceful portrayal of Morales the officer and the captain of the Dragoons, Zuniga, wassinisterly played by the tall thin Wm. Clay Thompson. He was not very good at hiding his attraction or perhaps addiction to Carmen. It was deliciously fun watching her lead him around with her seduction tied around his neck and also quite fascinating that even after Carmen kicks the captain in a most delicate place, he still attempts to woo her again later. I guess the painful memory faded quickly. Perhaps it’s like having a baby, when you get the prize it’s worth the pain. Zuniga receives five stars for persistence.
The set that Keith Brumley designed was fairly basic and morphed well from a square in Sevilla, to a tavern, then a wild mountain pass, and finally again as a square at the circus entrance. The lighting was designed by Chad Jung who accomplished lurid spots on the leads when they had their glory moments. Especially effective was how the full moon was lit while the gypsies read their fates on tarot cards. Blood-colored glows highlighted the reds of Carmen’s dress foreshadowing the gore to come.
One could think this is just another story of sex and romance gone awry but is should also be understood that Bizet’s work is a daring social commentary that depicts society’s huge class differences. Through his music he tells the story of struggling minorities and poor factory girls in the 1820 cigarette factory and then starkly contrasts them to the upper class that attends bullfights or has arranged marriages to soldiers in good standing. Today’s world still struggles with issues of how to treat those who roam the world without a home and disrupt the lives of the wealthy. Some concepts unfortunately never go out of fashion.
Speaking of fashion, the historic and revealing costumes were provided by the Utah Opera Company. Due to the seductive actions of the lovers and the dancers I wouldn’t recommend bringing kids under 12 to this production.
However, I do highly recommend adults of both extensive and little opera knowledge take in this gritty and compelling tale of a poor minority woman who grabs the shark fin of life and holds on no matter what.
Fort Worth Opera Festival
Bass Performance Hall
525 Commerce Street
Fort Worth, TX 76102
Final performances are Sunday, April 30 th at 2:00 pm and Friday, May 5 th at 7:30 pm. Production presented in two acts and runs approximately 3 hours, with one intermission.
Single tickets range from $17 to $195. Season subscriptions range from $26 to $379. Military receives a discount. Student rush tickets are available, with ID, 15 minutes prior to performance.
Purchase tickets online at www.fwopera.org or call 817-731- 0726 (Toll Free 1.877.396.7372).