Opera Review: CARMEN (Lyric Opera of Chicago)

Post image for Opera Review: CARMEN (Lyric Opera of Chicago)

by Barnaby Hughes on March 23, 2023

in Theater-Chicago


Like many organizations coming to grips with structural racism in American society, Lyric Opera has been making tremendous efforts to promote diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Lyric has done this above all by casting more performers of color, especially African-Americans, and by incubating a world-premiere opera by and about African-Americans — The Factotum (review here). In Carmen, DEI has affected the littlest details in a not insignificant way. Gone is the term “gypsy” from the supertitles; now Carmen is one of the “Roma people.” This reviewer has long thought many of Lyric’s supertitle translations were stale, so it is reassuring to see some new life breathed into them.

Bizet’s most popular opera and one of the most performed in the whole canon, Carmen needs little introduction. Set in the not-too-distant past of Spain, Carmen centers on the eponymous tragic heroine who seduces the young soldier Don José away from Micaëla and then leaves him for the cocky bullfighter Escamillo. In the end, Don José kills Carmen rather than let her go. A three and a half-hour production in four acts with two intermissions, Carmen is long, but it moves quickly and never bores.

This season’s production is wholly different from that of the 2016-2017 season. Hearkening back to a more traditional aesthetic, Robert Perdziola’s costume designs and Robin Don’s set designs are less colorful (or less brightly colored), yet more realistic. Carmen’s initial white dress is elegant in its simplicity, but her later ruffled dress seems ugly and dated. Director Marie Lambert-Le Bihan keeps the action fluid and exciting, making good use of Don’s expansive and versatile sets. And she shows great sympathy for the opera’s heroine, emphasizing Carmen’s agency rather than her passive victimization at the hands of violent men.

J’Nai Bridges beautifully performs the title role with every ounce of charisma and seduction that she can muster and then some! It’s easily the most convincing portrayal of the role this reviewer has yet seen. Unfortunately, her voice is not such a good fit; too rich and thick where it needs to be light and limpid. Charles Castronovo similarly doesn’t have quite the right voice for the role of Don José. I loved him in Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love last season, but Carmen doesn’t show off his vocal prowess in the same way (fewer high notes, less ornamentation) with the exception of “The Flower Song.”

Fortunately, Carmen boasts three very promising Lyric debuts: Golda Schultz as Micaëla, Andrei Kymach as Escamillo, and Ryan Capozzo as Remendado. Schultz hails from South Africa and infuses her lovely, lyrical voice with all of the tenderness and emotion her role requires. Kymach, by contrast, sings his famous “Toreador Song” with booming bombast punctuated by proud pomposity. And Capozzo, a first-year member of the Ryan Opera Center, makes his small role memorable by the silkiness of his tenor and the passion and emotional range of his performance, which veers from the authoritative and the drunken to the besotted.

It is always a pleasure to see and hear the children of Uniting Voices Chicago, who bring a lighter, more innocent note to what is mostly a very adult-themed opera. And a varied cast of dancers adds a further layer of artistry to what is already a highly varied and entertaining production. From the exuberant overture conducted by Henrik Nánási to the tragic climax, this Carmen is one that you won’t want to miss.

photos by Todd Rosenberg

Lyric Opera of Chicago
Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive
ends on April 7, 2023
for tickets, call 312.332.2244 or visit Lyric Opera

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

Leave a Comment