When & Where: Available Saturday, May 1, 2021 at 7:30pm then on demand until the end of the season | Streamed from a recorded performance at the Orpheum Theatrefor the Performing Arts
Music Leslie Dala and Vancouver Opera Orchestra Director Brenna Corner Lighting Designer Gerald King Projection Designer Chengyan Boon Costume Designer Alaia Hamer Stage Manager Theresa Tsang
Carmen Amanda Weatherall Don José Ian Cleary Micaëla Jonelle Sills Escamillo Luka Kawabata and Voice Over Narration Kimberley-Ann Bartczak
Sung in French with English surtitles
Reviewer John Jane
Georges Bizet’s Carmen, with its brilliant orchestrations and rich melodies set against a tale of passion, jealousy, and even vengeance, has remained one of the most popular of operas. I’m happy to report that this pandemic-era condensed version not only retains the essence of Bizet’s tale of misplaced sexual obsession and resultant tragedy, but also those wonderful arias. In fact, neophytes might just prefer it.
Director Brenna Corner’s adaptation is, of course, shorter and features only the four main characters. Ms. Corner has brought a fresh take that is both entertaining and provocative. She wisely considers that if audiences are unable to attend a live performance in person, then they need something special to motivate a home viewing. To that end, Corner provides cinematic style close-ups at suitable moments and instead of the standard opéra comique device which has arias separated by dialogue, she creates an effective voice-over narration connected to Carmen’s recurring tarot card reading.
It’s dozen years ago that Rinat Shaham mesmerized audiences with her hyper-sexual version of the tempestuous gypsy in Vancouver Opera’s 2009 production. The scale of this production hardly allows Mezzo-soprano Amanda Weatherall to obtain that level of physicality and her wholesome appearance may not readily suggest a capacity to not only steal a man’s heart, but destroy his soul. Nonetheless, Weatherall shows that she has the technical virtuosity and exhibits beautiful movement around the stage. Her coquettish phrasing of the famed aria Quand je vous aimerai gives a human dimension to the capricious heroine.
Tenor Ian Cleary is superb in perhaps the multi-dimensional role of the accursed Don José. As he is drawn under Carmen’s spell, he becomes consumed with jealousy; he is smitten, subjugated, humiliated, ultimately rejected, and yet he returns to her begging for more.
In the supporting roles, baritone Luka Kawabata gives an athletic performance as Don José’s rival, Escamille. His striking stage presence allows him to convey his character of a toreador with the required swagger. There was just a hint of camp in his rendition of Votre toast, je peux vous le rendre (Toreador's Song). Soprano Jonelle Sills, whose character Micaëla juxtaposes with that of Carmen, is portrayed with guile and sensitivity. Ms Sills demonstrates her character’s fragile vulnerability in her emotional solo aria Je dis que rien ne m’epouvante, as she prays for courage.
This is the final production in Vancouver Opera’s generous first digital season. While many regular patrons will hope that it will also be the last, I’m sure that they will also be grateful of the efforts to bring quality opera under challenging circumstances to appreciative audiences.
© 2021 John Jane