|Avery Amereau and Victor Starsky|
We realize that calling New York Opera Exchange's Carmen the best Carmen ever is quite an extravagant statement. But this is the first time we have been totally absorbed in a production from the opening note of the overture until Carmen dies in the arms of her lover and murderer Don José. We have seen and heard this opera dozens of time and are usually quite restless by Act IV and have been known to mutter sotto voce "Kill her already!"
Let us first give credit where credit is due. To begin with, the role of the eponymous heroine was brilliantly sung and acted. Mezzo-soprano Avery Amereau has a thrillingly dark instrument and employs it so effectively that one is never aware of the technique, only aware that she is completely in the moment and giving 110%. After the first couple minutes we forgot that her fine-featured face looks nothing like that of a gypsy. The way she used her body embodied the free-spirited and rebellious nature of the character in a way never before seen by us. It surely came from a deep inner place and was not, as with most Carmens, a case of "acting sexy".
Secondly, we credit the director Matt Dickson who, surprisingly, is new to the world of opera. He apparently applied everything he knew from the world of theater without interfering with the singers' ability to function vocally. There were countless examples of stage business that supported the interactions of the characters and also served to establish the cultural milieu in which the characters were interacting.
This was an authentic Carmen, true to time and place. (We loathed the Carmen set in the 1950's and had no use for the one set in Franco's Spain.) In this corner of Seville, in this particular production, there was tension between the townspeople and the military; they tolerated one another but there was the feeling that a simple confrontation could erupt at any moment into a conflagration. This atmosphere of tension reflected and contributed to the tension between the characters.
Thirdly, we credit the superlative conducting of Alden Gatt. The full-sized orchestra was placed in front of the audience and during the prelude we had a moment's concern about the volume but Maestro Gatt wisely balanced the sound so that it supported the singers and never drowned them out. The flute and oboe solos were particularly lovely.
Tenor Victor Starsky made a fine Don José who grew in dimension as the story progressed. He began as a rather buttoned-up fellow with his future already determined. As Carmen wove her spell upon him he became expressive, conflicted, passionate, and insanely jealous. By Act IV, he had completely decompensated--wild-eyed, wild-haired and desperate. His Act II aria "La fleur que tu m'avais jetée" was stellar.
The role of Micaëla, the sweet innocent girl whom Don José is supposed to marry, was winningly performed by soprano Kaley Lynn Soderquist whose bright lovely instrument was perfect for the role. Her Act III aria "Je dis que rien ne m'épouvante" was a convincing blend of terror, courage and faith.
Bass-baritone Kian Freitas sang the role of Escamillo and sang it well but could have used more arrogance in his voice and in his body language. We had the same observation of one of the last Escamillos we saw at the Met. We want to see a torero who struts around with shoulders back and head held high, signalling confidence.
As Carmen's two friends Frasquita and Mercedes, we were very pleased with the performances of NYOE favorite Nadia Petrella who has a fine bright soprano just right for the part of Frasquita and mezzo Kate Farrar who made an excellent Mercedes. For some reason, Costume Designer Taylor Mills, who did a splendid job on all the other costumes, dressed these two singers in hideous short satin skirts and street shoes, even as they trekked up the mountains. Give those girls some boots!
We further enjoyed tenor James Grandjean as Le Remendado and baritone Andrew Luzania as Le Dancairo. The Act II ensemble when these smugglers are making their plans with the women "Nous avons en tête une affaire" was excellently harmonized.
Bass Costas Tsourakis made a suitably repellent Zuniga with a nice booming sound and baritone Jonathan Christopher was fine as Morales.
The chorus of townspeople contributed to the proceedings and managed to distinguish themselves as individuals, thanks to the good stage direction. The children's chorus had only one young man and it was a bit strange to see a group of female children imitating soldiers.
The set by Gabriel Firestone was simple but effective and was lit by Kimberlee Hurley.
Georges Bizet composed Carmen in 1875 with a libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy for the Opéra Comique in Paris. It had spoken dialogue and was presented as music theater. It was considered scandalous because of the sexuality and violence. It later came to be considered grand opera with the addition of accompanied recitativi by Ernest Guiraud. It has been a favorite in the canon ever since.
It was brave of NYOE to tackle such a work but we were thrilled with the intimacy and never missed the parade of picadors in Act IV or the mountains in Act III. With acting and singing this good, the imagination supplies the rest. We have watched NYOE grow over the past few years; the quality keeps improving. We have seen the future of opera in New York City and it's looking great.
(c) meche kroop