Reviewed by Sherri Strichman
It was a painful night at the opera Friday (April 27) as Tri-Cities Opera opened its end-of-season production, The Tragedy of Carmen. Peter Brook’s reduction of the opera into 90 minutes features the four main characters and an eviscerated version of Georges Bizet’s score. The original production in the 1980s received everything from raves of acclaim to wails of dismay and derision by the critics. It focuses on the “Tragedy” aspect of Carmen’s life and shows her as a tool and victim of Fate.
Musically, it is a series of disjointed elements of the original score that have no contrasting moments. Dramatically, it is a litany of gloom from unsympathetic characters.
The TCO resident artists portraying Carmen, Micaela and Escamillo are all fine singers but seemed miscast vocally in their roles. Tascha Anderson’s beautiful voice has neither the depth nor the weight for Carmen. “Votre toast” (the toreador’s song) sounded too low for Scott Purcell. Even Stacey Geyer, a wonderful singer, sounded uncomfortable with Micaela’s aria. Only guest artist Andrew Surrena, as Don Jose, seemed to fit his role vocally.
The theme from the “Card Trio” (in which Carmen keeps turning over cards that predict Death) was prominent throughout. It was played nicely at the opening and close by violist Melissa Stucky, part of a chamber orchestra under the direction of Braden Toan. With only this for a prelude, and some crawling around the stage by Anderson in gray draperies, we were launched into the Micaela/Jose duet.
I am unfamiliar with the Peter Brook original and so am uncertain whether some of the freakish staging was from that or was devised by Director James Kenon Mitchell. Carmen frequently stared off, dead-faced, into the unknown. And what was that bizarre threesome during the “Toreador Song” as Carmen and Micaela (or Geyer portraying someone else not identified in the program) danced with Escamillo? The fight sequences were fortunately well-rehearsed as the edges of the austere set (by Scenic Designer AmarA*jk) left no room for miscalculation.
Nearly all the lighter elements of the music and action were gone, leaving only doom and gloom. The meaning of “comic relief” could not have been clearer than in this production where it was desperately needed. It was well provided by Wm. Clark Snyder as Lillas Pastia, the tavern keeper.
In the course of 90 minutes, Don Jose kills his superior officer, Zuniga (Martin Schmidt); Carmen’s closet husband, Garcia (Evan Nelson), and finally Carmen herself. Jose is not a nice boy from the country driven to madness by a seductress but a small-town malefactor who goes to the big city and becomes a multiple murderer. Carmen is not a free-spirited temptress but a simulacrum turned out by Fate to destroy.
Kudos to Costume Designer Katherine “Sue” Johnson for Escamillo’s turquoise matador duds and Carmen’s flowered flounces for Seville. Other members of the technical staff included Craig Saeger (Technical/Lighting Designer) and Shushu Vaughn (Wig/Hair and Make-up Designer).
One can see how attractive a proposition it could be to present a work with great music (however decimated) and without the costs of outfitting a chorus, building sets and paying a full orchestra. But worth the price? No. (Full disclosure: The reviewer was a chorister at New York City Opera, where she sang dozens of performances of Carmen. Perhaps those not as familiar with the full score would be less offended.)
IF YOU GO: The Tragedy of Carmen will be presented again at 7:30 p.m. Friday (May 4) and Sunday (May 6) at the Opera Center, 315 Clinton St., Binghamton. Tickets: Visit www.tricitiesopera.com or call 772-0400.
TCO's stripped-down 'Carmen' seems vocally miscast
Reviewed by Sherri Strichman