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.

Monday, July 1, 2024


 Cast of Lighthouse Opera's production of Bizet's Carmen

The last time we saw Bizet's popular 1875 masterpiece, we were sorely disappointed in the director's betrayal of the intent of the composer and his librettists Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy.  Although they did not adhere strictly to the 1845 novella by Prosper Mérimée, the opera, as written, is a powerful character study of an independent woman who is governed by her will (a Sigma woman, in contemporary parlance) facing off against a weak man who is governed by his feelings.

The third "character" of the story, the only character to which Carmen will submit, is that of Fate. Within the construct of Romany culture, all is destined. If one listen carefully to the music and the dialogue, Carmen knows even before she reads her cards that she will die. Don Jose, the hapless soldier who falls for her, is also a victim of superstition; he believes that Gypsies can cast spells and that the rose that Carmen throws at him has put him under a spell he is unable to resist.

Set in modern times, one would be tempted to assign psychiatric diagnoses to these characters, all the more reason to avoid such folderol.

On a huge stage with elaborate sets and costumes, it is easy for the listener him/herself to be seduced by the seductive rhythms and memorable melodies of Georges Bizet. Hearing the opera in concert  version, as produced last night in a special Manhattan performance at the National Opera Center by Lighthouse Opera (native to The Bronx), we were undistracted by spectacle and able to hear the piano reduction anew (sensitively played by Jason Wirth) and to relate to the aforementioned characterological issues.

The female characters stole the show. As the eponymous Gypsy, mezzo-soprano Victoria Thomasch remained in character for the entire three hours that she was onstage and held our attention throughout. Equally compelling in the "Habanera" and the "Seguidilla", she played against her Nordic appearance and convinced us totally of her self-determination, utilizing the darkish color of her impressive instrument.

No less compelling was the touching performance of soprano Lena Yasmin whose expressive instrument brought Micaëla's character into fine focus. The false bravado came across effectively, especially in her "Je dis que rien ne m'épouvante". It made us wonder what would happen to her after this tragedy, a thought that we had never had before.

Tenor Chad Kranak portrayed the tormented Don Jose whose loyalty to his mother and his intended were destroyed by a Gypsy spell, his belief in such magic, or maybe just plain lust. We enjoyed his vocalism the most in the pianissimo passages. 

Baritone Chris Fistonich made a confident self-assured Escamillo without the hackneyed arrogance. The sweetest male voice we heard all evening belonged to baritone Sung Shin who eschewed the customary comic relief in the role of the smuggler Dancaïro. Mr. Shin has not been heard as often recently as we have wished and it was a genuine pleasure to hear him once more, as it was to hear tenor Julio Mascaro in the role of Remendado, although Mr. Mascaro has had a frequent stage presence recently. The two of them had a fine duet in Act II.

The remainder of the group of smugglers comprised soprano Olanna Goudeau as Frasquita and mezzo-soprano Tomoko Nago as Mercédes. One of our favorite scenes was the fortune-telling scene when the three female smugglers fantasized their futures in charming harmony, Carmen's dark prediction contrasting with the wish fulfillment of the other two.

The role of Zuniga was taken by Vladimir Avetisian and that of Moralès, by Yun-Jui Hsieh. Special accolades to the chorus who added color to the proceedings.

The entire evening was well-shaped by Maestro Brian Holman who kept things moving at a brisk tempo with energetic rhythmic propulsion. We particularly enjoyed the accelerating pace of the afore-mentioned trio in the card-reading scene of Act III. Other highlights were the duet between Don Jose and Micaela in Act I, the duet between Dancaïre and Remendado in Act II, and Carmen's dance "Je vais danser en votre honneur ... La la la".

It was a most compelling evening and we enjoyed appreciating the story, the score, and the characters in a new light.

© meche kroop

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