|Dialogue des Carmelites|
Within the black box theater on 13th St., operas were stripped of their accretions and presented afresh. Maestro Fecteau is not only a superb conductor but a superb orchestrator, as noted last year for his work on Ariadne auf Naxos. His score reduction for Carmen this year was no less wonderful. Under his skilled baton, barely a dozen musicians in the Festival Chamber Orchestra delivered Bizet's score with incomparable immediacy; every theme could be distinguished with great clarity. We were particularly delighted by the woodwinds.
Knud Adams directed Carmen in a most original fashion. One observed first that we were hearing the original Opera Comique version with expanded spoken dialogue which revealed a great deal of the characters' backstories. We did not miss the cuts of several choruses and the story became more immediate and personal. Mr. Adams chose to present the story in modern dress, a choice of which we are not fond; that being said, we admit that we were forced to see the story with fresh eyes. The Wardrobe Coordinator Carla Gant followed through with the concept. The soldiers were now soccer-playing riot police who controlled the crowds as if they were current day protesters. Carmen herself, finely sung by mezzo Elisabeth Shoup, appeared as a sexily androgynous biker chick; by dint of acting skill, she overcame her naturally soft and vulnerable features to adopt a coolly rebellious and mostly indifferent aspect. Adam Juran's Don Jose was pretty cool as well. In Act IV they faced each other from across a carpeted space, sitting on two bridge chairs. It was so cold and calculated that the stabbing became more shocking.
Notable was the lovely soprano of Lauren Onsrud as Micaela and an amusing duet between Frasquita (soprano Yungee Rhie) and Mercedes (mezzo Jocelyne O'Toole) whose voices blended beautifully. Escamillo was sung by Elias Notus as less arrogant than that to which we are accustomed. The smugglers El Dancairo and El Remendado were well sung by Jonathan Morales and David Burkard. Brian Long portrayed Zuniga. Now, get this! the role of Lillas Pastia was taken by a woman--Kate Ross who added a lot of color dancing the part of the bull to Escamillo's toreador in Act II and who reappeared as a symbol of death in Act IV. There were some directorial choices which we found somewhat less fortunate but the entire production seemed to resonate with the enthusiastic audience.
Poulenc's Dialogue Des Carmelites is an entirely different type of opera. As in most 20th c. operas, the aria is reduced in importance, as is the melodic vocal line. We pay more attention to the orchestra; that's where the interest lies. And what excellent music it is! The ensemble work was superb and we were thrilled by the choruses of Ave Maria and the Salve Regina. Chorus Master was Johnathan Spencer IV.
As Madame de Croissy, the Prioress who cannot manage to die with dignity, Leanne Gonzalez-Singer impressed us with her voice and her acting. Likewise her successor Madame Lidoine who has the sole aria, perfectly sung by Mary Ann Stewart. As Blanche, the fragile young aristocrat who chooses to join the Carmelites to escape her fears, Jennifer Moore managed to convey a growing strength as she found solace amongst her convent sisters. A standout as Constance, the always cheerful sister, was Maria Alu. Laura Federici showed growth as Mere Marie, her severity softening over time.
As they say, there are no small roles. We want to hear more of Mathew Klauser who impressed us with his focused baritone. Victoria Crutchfield directed the work with directness and simplicity; the final scene as the nuns go off to the guillotine was very powerful. Most scenes ended with a "freeze-frame" given special importance by the lighting of Scott Schneider.
There is another set of performances next weekend with several different cast members. We urge you to avail yourself of this excellent opportunity to hear the stars of tomorrow.
(c) meche kroop