We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017


Doug Durlacher, Sichel Claverie, Brent Reilly Turner
We had barely recovered from the emotional impact of Heartbeat Opera's Madama Butterfly when we were hit with another wallop by their Carmen. When we planned this "double feature" evening, we were expecting a pair of "Cliff Notes" of the two operas.  After all, how much could one say by truncating an opera into an hour and a half?  Surely we were in for a light-weight experience!

How wrong we were! The right people can say a great deal in a short period of time. By knowing just what to strip away and where to put the emphasis, a revised and abbreviated version of a beloved opera can have a huge impact and take us to new places. Co-Artistic Director of Heartbeat Opera Louisa Proske directed a compressed essence of Carmen that left us feeling stabbed in the heart.

This condensed Carmen took us to a new place, a borderland between two places where anything might happen. Kate Noll's set was a guard house with a chain-link fence surmounted by barbed wire. A very athletic Carmen is creeping on the ground, then climbing up and over the guard house. Was it Chloe Treat's amazing choreography that had her crawling in and out of doors and windows trying to escape the guards? In any case, it was raw and realistic.

There is no cigar factory.  There is no bullfight. There is no card game or mountain passes. No Mercedes, no Frasquita, no Remendado or Dancaire.  No Lilas Pastias' Tavern. There is only the story of four people and two triangles. Micaela loves Don Jose. He is conflicted.  His mother wants him to wed this "good girl" and lovely soprano Jessica Sandidge was perfect in the part. She was most affecting in her aria "Je dis que rien ne m'epouvante". Her body language and voice joined forces to make us feel both her terror and her faith.

But Don Jose (the fine tenor Brent Reilly Turner) has become entranced by this highly intense Carmen, portrayed with wild abandon and stamina by the impressive smoky mezzo-soprano Sichel Claverie. Her infatuation fades when she encounters Escamillo--a bullfighter by libretto, but in this case a hopped-up coke-snorting hoodlum. In this role, baritone Ricardo Rivera gave an amazingly physical performance that had elements of humor that the audience appreciated.

Mr. Ricardo is no stranger to singing this role but we are quite sure he has never performed it like this before. One funny moment occurred as he entered with "You know who I am? Play my song!". The audience roared with glee but hushed as soon as the jazz orchestra (saxophone, guitar, violin, viola, bass, and piano) struck up a unique arrangement of "The Toreador Song".

Daniel Schlosberg was Music Director for this production, both conducting and playing the piano, as well as arranging the score. In the afore-mentioned scene, the musicians have joined Carmen and Don Jose and a generic smuggler (Parker Drown) to dance and swill beer in an improvised fiesta under colored lights.

Ms. Claverie gave an enticing delivery of the "Seguidilla" and we thought we wouldn't get to hear the "Habanera" but she sang it after Don Jose stabbed her as a kind of postlude commentary. After the knockdown dragout fight with the violent Don Jose (Fight Director was Rick Sordelet) we don't know how she found the breath to fill out the phrases so well but she did.

So we got most of Bizet's luscious music along with a fresh look at an old favorite.

Beth Goldenberg's costumes were a propos.

The opera world is becoming increasingly specialized with so many small companies occupying their own niches. Heartbeat Opera has established theirs in presenting radical adaptations of the classics, being both physically and emotionally right in your face. That they are speaking to the 21st c. is evident from the youthful composition of their audience. Their new home at the Baruch Performing Arts Center appears to be just right with ample student input!

(c) meche kroop

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