Los Angeles Opera Review: CARMEN (LA Opera at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion)

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by Tony Frankel on September 27, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles

SAFETY IN NUMBERS

The production of Carmen that opened this week at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion has been seen before. Emilio Sagi’s production originated at Madrid’s Teatro Real and was previously seen in Los Angeles in 2004 and 2008. To put it mildly, this Tony Frankel’s Stage and Cinema Los Angeles review of “Carmen" - LA Opera at Dorothy Chandler Pavilionseems like a safe choice for the season opener: With music by Georges Bizet and libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, the “Tale of a Temptress” is one of the most accessible operas ever written; the consistency of memorable arias and musical melodies specific to the location of the story is nearly unparalleled, and that means more non-opera folk will be likely to attend.

It’s also a safer production financially as the technical elements are already in place: Gerardo Trotti’s massive and striking sets which offer breathtaking perspective; the mismatched and odd costumes by Jesús del Pozo, the subtle but effective lights by Guido Levi, and the serviceable, flamenco-esque choreography by Nuria Castejón. In his LA Opera debut, Trevore Ross was brought in to “direct,” but he more or less is simply restaging Sagi’s version.

Aside from the voices, what is the one thing that Carmen needs to be inspiring? In the tale of a gypsy temptress who entices an honest soldier to the dark side, it should be dripping in sex, passion and lust. Because of Ross’s staging and the casting, those elements are sorely lacking. No doubt there is some terrific acting and singing, but Tony Frankel’s Stage and Cinema Los Angeles review of “Carmen" - LA Opera at Dorothy Chandler Pavilionit’s a mixed bag and is recommended only for those who have never seen Carmen before.

Irish mezzo-soprano Patricia Bardon may not look like the blazing-hot Carmen on the poster for this production, but she offers a remarkably probing and crafty Carmen, confident in her own type of attractiveness. She brandishes her power and self-confidence to lure men and dominate her fellow factory workers and her gang of gypsy thieves. Physically, Bardon may not exude sexiness, but her audacity, sauciness and humor is most compelling. Her phrasing is never forced or obvious, and her French enunciation is superb. Above all, it is her many nuances—childlike, sad, jealous, disbelieving, coquettish—that make Bardon one of the most unusual but best-acted Carmens I have seen.

Tony Frankel’s Stage and Cinema Los Angeles review of “Carmen" - LA Opera at Dorothy Chandler PavilionAs proved during the curtain call, South African soprano Pretty Yende is far and away the audience favorite. She sings the part of Micaëla, Don José’s innocent childhood sweetheart, with full-bodied, opulent texture, utilizing extraordinary support for a diversity of vocal gradations.

Brandon Jovanovich is a meandering, somewhat unnatural, almost character-free Don José, the corporal who is bewitched by Carmen (it makes perfect sense that Carmen becomes bored with José by Act III). However, the American tenor has an enticing and rich vocal quality that is rare to behold. His Act II aria, “La fleur que tu m’avais jetée,” is sumptuous (Brazilian tenor Thiago Arancam makes his LA Opera debut in the role on Oct. 1 and 4). Together during Act I, Yende and Jovanovich create the best duet of the night: “Parle-moi de ma mere.”

Tony Frankel’s Stage and Cinema Los Angeles review of “Carmen" - LA Opera at Dorothy Chandler PavilionThe most surprising letdown of the night came with Italian bass-baritone Ildebrando D’Arcangelo as Escamillo, the toreador who vies for Carmen’s love. D’Arcangelo remains as powerful as ever with his top notes, but struggled with the low ones. On top of that, it is dismaying when he enters Lillas Pastia’s Inn surrounded by a throng of fans, and the erstwhile bari-hunk displayed a paunch in a costume best-described as a 1970s purple jump-suit confiscated from the closet of Anne Murray. D’Arcangelo is spirited in Act III, in which the gypsy smugglers have set up camp, but it was most peculiar that a gorgeously detailed set of the mountains had a giant slate-gray wall on stage left with a detailed façade of a building from Act I poking out.

Korean soprano Hae Ji Chang and Mexican mezzo-soprano Cassandra Zoé Velasco are divine as the gypsy fortune tellers Frasquita and Mercédès, but the non-Tony Frankel’s Stage and Cinema Los Angeles review of “Carmen" - LA Opera at Dorothy Chandler Pavilionthreatening Russian bass Valentin Anikin is emaciated in character and indistinctive in voice as Zuniga, the Lieutenant of Dragoons.

Grant Gershon took the baton from Plácido Domingo for this performance; his leadership is robust and he certainly knows how to cue his singers. I just wish that some of Bizet’s astounding orchestrations stood out more. The L.A. Opera Chorus dutifully hits their mark, but the children’s chorus lacks punch. Still, with 115 performers on stage, it always feels miraculous that the singers are as unified as they are.

Tony Frankel’s Stage and Cinema Los Angeles review of “Carmen" - LA Opera at Dorothy Chandler PavilionThe days when opera stars are cast merely for their voice is waning and we desire leads better-suited to their roles. Modern audiences, especially those new to opera, will be a bit dumbstruck if there is so much lust in the script, but little sexual chemistry on stage. While this Carmen has the potential to be thrilling, it is merely risk-free, neither uplifting nor dull. With a feast of a score, this production ends up as merely a palatable snack.

photos by Robert Millard


Carmen
LA Opera at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
scheduled to end on October 6, 2013
for tickets, call 213.972.8001 or visit http://www.laopera.com

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