Libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halvey
Conductor Alain Altinoglu
Stage Director Harry Silverstein
At the Lyric Opera of Chicago
Magnificent Carmen opera hits all the right notes
A few seconds into the Carmen overture, Bizet’s haunting melodies and stirring rhythms remind us of his brilliance. We’ve heard Bizet’s music as underscoring for films as much as we’ve heard them in an opera house. Now add a large cast including the Chicago Children’s Choir and you have a most memorable evening of grand opera!
I have seen several versions of Carmen that seemed to either cut the opera to a one act or productions that change to tempo of Bizet’s music. Neither were satisfying. The Lyric Opera of Chicago, thankfully, mounted a complete 3 hour and 40 minute opera that replicated the splendor, spectacle and musical power of Bizet’s 1875 original Carmen.
Featuring power voices from Yonghoon Lee (Don Jose), Elaine Alvarez (Micaela), Katherine Goeldner (Carmen) and Craig Irvin (Zuniga), you’ll not witness a stronger cast that emotionally inhabit their characters with clarity and sensuality that engages us throughout. The splendor of mid 19th Century Seville is showcased with the vivid opening scenes culminating with Goeldner’s expert rendering of Habanera” L’amour est un oiseau rebelle. We do indeed realize that Carmen, the gypsy prostitute, is a free spirited who will not be ordered about.
Don Jose ( a stunning vocal tenor from Youghoon Lee) care about Micaeli but is enticed by Carmen as the gypsy girl hits his heart as she throws a flower to woo him. Jose declares his love to Carmen who responds that if he loved her, he would carry her away and desert the army.
At the smuggler’s camp, Frasquita (Jennifer Jakob) and Mercedes (Emily Fons) tell thri fortunes from the cards; Carmen does also and she sees death for her and Don Jose. is Carmen’s fate doomed?
Among the grand entrances and marches in Carmen i the Toreador song, “Votre toast, je peux vos le rendre”, Escamilo (nice work from Kyle Ketelsen) attempts to capture Carmen’s heart. This was a stunning scene as was the triumphant toreadors procession. I was perplexed by the ending which was changed in this production.
The Chicago Children’s Choir added several wonderful moments to the opera especially in the early scenes and the procession of the toreadors in Act IV.
What anchored the opera for me was the emotional connection between Goeldner’s Carmen and Lee’s Don Jose – we empathize, we hope for them and we are saddened by their demise. Bizet’s music is expertly presented by Altinoglu’s fabulous orchestra. It seem that musicians so love to perform Bizet that them sound sharper and crisper as they conform to the arrangements.
The audience at the performance I attended gave several “bravos” including a most enthusiastic standing ovation to the cast. Carmen remains a favorite and this production plays exuberantly to sophisticate opera patrons. Carmen is a worthy first opera for those who have never attended an opera.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: October 16, 2010
For full show information, check out the Carmen page at TheatreInChicago.