|John Kim, Conrad Schmechel, Bonnie Frauenthal, Michael Celentano, Melissa Serluco, Paul Khoury, Perri Sussman, and Julia Gmeiner|
Although we generally take a dim view of updating the classics, what Lenora Eve accomplished with Bizet's Carmen was nothing short of miraculous. As President, Founder, and Artistic Director of Opera Breve, Ms. Eve devised an original concept that shed new light on the opera. She gave herself the role of psychoanalyst Dr. Eve Stone, delivering a paper on "Love, Obsession, and Addiction", illustrating the pathology of one Don Jose whom she had interviewed as he was on death row, awaiting execution for the murder of Carmen.
She did an impressive job of presenting the scenes of the opera onstage as illustrations of the points she made from her offstage podium. This concept appealed enormously to our psychoanalytic self and sounded exactly like papers we have heard at psychoanalytic conferences. The amazing thing was that her theorizing was astute and accurate.
One point that we had never considered is that Don Jose saw himself as a victim and was unable to see his role in the tragedy. Carmen was portrayed as an insecure woman, fearful of abandonment, using her wiles to bring men close to her and then dumping them before they could abandon her. We found this interpretation thought provoking.
Moreover, the eight performers cast in the opera seemed to intuit Ms. Eve's analysis or were very well directed by her. The entire cast sang well and their French, if not always perfect, was perfectly understandable. The diction and acting were so on point that titles were unnecessary.
As the eponymous Carmen, mezzo-soprano Melissa Serluco turned in her customary fine performance. As befitting Ms. Eve's concept, there was nothing sinister about her seductions and one could feel considerable empathy for the character. Both the Habanera and the Seguidilla were performed with style and substance. Having enjoyed her performances with Utopia Opera and Amore Opera, we were unsurprised by the rich texture of her voice and fine phrasing.
We felt the same appreciation for soprano Bonnie Frauenthal's Micaela, even though her character was presented in the traditional fashion--shy, innocent, vulnerable, but calling upon faith to give her courage. Ms. Frauenthal has a lovely bright instrument and used it well in the service of the music and the character. Her "Je dis que rien ne m'epouvante" was incredibly moving. We have heard and enjoyed Ms. Frauenthal's performances with Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble and Utopia Opera.
Both of these young artists seem to be in demand by New York's most impressive boutique companies, as is the terrific tenor Michael Celentano, whose performances we have also enjoyed in lots of major tenor roles. As Don Jose, he sang and acted with distinction, seeming to convey the very points made by "Dr. Stone" at the podium. We loved the way he sang "La fleur que tu m'avais jetee" and the abject manner in which he begged Carmen to return to him.
His duets with Carmen and with Micaela were marked by depth of feeling and lovely vocal balance.
Soprano Julia Gmeiner as Frasquita and mezzo-soprano Perri Sussman as Mercedes added a lot of personality to their roles as friends of Carmen who flirted wildly with Escamillo (Paul Khoury, who managed to sing while twirling his cape and engaging in a knife fight with Don Jose) and accepted money for their sexual favors at Lillas Pastia's tavern cum brothel.
Tenor John Kim made a fine El Remendado and also doubled in a very funny turn as a shy reluctant client at the brothel. His facial and bodily expressions were priceless. Baritone Conrad Schmechel was a fine addition as El Dancairo.
We always look forward to the humorous scene of the smugglers planning their next adventure. Here, it was particularly well done.
Replacing Bizet's stunning orchestration with a piano reduction is always hit or miss. In this case, it was clearly a hit. Pianist Matthew Lobaugh has the normal set of ten fingers but we heard the sound of scores of instruments.
Combat Director Joseph Melendez was so effective that we were holding our breath in anxiety for the artists. Not to worry. No one was at risk; it just looked that way.
Kristine Koury's costumes were simple for the most part and contemporary in style. Don Jose wore army fatigues; Escamillo had a fine matador costume with a cape of gold, not red. We like the dresses worn by Frasquita and Mercedes which had a definite flamenco flair. Micaela was dressed like a country girl; it was perfect.
We were delighted to see an old warhorse in a fresh light. If only other directors were similarly original with their concepts and creative in their executions! Unfortunately, most of them seem to come from a place of directorial arrogance and self aggrandizement and have nothing original to say.
The best proof of this production's success was that our companion for the evening had never seen an opera before and has declared himself as an ardent fan, eager for more experiences. If a small and adventuresome company can win converts like that, we must consider them a roaring success!
(c) meche kroop