Bizet’s CARMEN

Dates and Venue 24, 27, 29, 31 January & 3, 5 February 2009 @ 7.30PM | Queen Elizabeth Theatre

Carmen Rinat Shaham Don José David Pomeroy Micaëla Mariateresa Magisano Le Dancaire Peter Barrett Escamillo Daniel Okulitch Frasquita Karen Ydenberg Mercédès Majorie Poirier

Conductor Anthony Walker Director David Gately Fight choreographer Theresa Tsang Set design Allen Charles Klein Lighting Harry Frehner

Sung in French with English surtitles

Reviewer John Jane

It’s official! Georges Bizet’s Carmen is Vancouver Opera’s fastest-selling production of all time. Frankly, I would have been more surprised had this eagerly awaited opéra comique that features the sensational, Israeli-born mezzo-soprano Rinat Shaham in the title role, not sold-out its opening night performance; and once the buzz gets around, subsequent performances are likely well on the way to the same success.

Bizet’s tale of misplaced sexual obsession and resultant tragedy has seduced opera house audiences and converted indifferent patrons to zealous neophytes for quite a few generations. And although Bizet himself died before realising the immense success of his chef-d'oeuvre he would surely be well pleased with this traditional production.

The curtain rises amidst the noise and bustle of a Spanish street. Micaëla enters in search of her childhood sweetheart, Don José. Duty soldiers offer her gratuitous gallantry, but when she is told that Don José is on the next guard detail she leaves. At the sound of a factory-bell, factory girls make their appearance and mingle freely among the soldiers. Carmen is the last to arrive and is immediately the centre of attention. Bizet's mercurial and capricious heroine surely raises the pulses of every male, not only on stage but also in the audience with her coquettish phrasing of the famed aria “Quand je vous aimerai?“ (Habanera). Initially, Don José shuns Carmen’s approach but he is ultimately no match for her wilier street-smarts.

When Carmen is later arrested, she is placed in the custody of Don José. Carmen tempts him with a promise of rapture in exchange for freedom with the Seguidilla. Don José vacillates between his duty to Micaëla and his primal lust for Carmen. Alas, it’s Carmen’s charm that wins out and the first act ends with her escape.

Rinat Shaham is mesmerizing as Carmen! She has no difficulty parlaying her natural elegance and exquisite beauty to the role of the tempestuous gypsy who taunts and torments her lover, Don José. She may not have the technical virtuosity of an Angela Gheorghiu, but certainly possesses all the vocal and physical attributes that this role demands.

Newfoundland tenor David Pomeroy is superb in perhaps the only 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 and eventually rejected, yet returns to her begging for more. Pomeroy is in fine voice throughout, but his acting in the final ‘death’ scene is nothing less than compelling.

In the supporting roles, Albertan baritone Daniel Okulitch gives an athletic and serviceable performance as Don José’s rival, Escamille. His amazing stage presence allows him convey his character of a matador with confidence. There was just a hint of camp in his rendition of “The Toreador's Song” that further indeared him to the audience. Likewise, Peter Barrett showed that he is deserving of much bigger roles than that of Le Dancaire, leader of the band of Smugglers.

Micaëla, whose character Bizet juxtaposes with that of Carmen is portrayed with guile and sensitivity by (beautifully named) Montreal soprano Mariateresa Magisano. Ms Magisano demonstrates her character’s fragile vulnerability in “Je dis que rien ne m’epouvante,“ her emotionally absorbing third act solo aria. Frightened and alone inside the smuggler's camp, she prays for courage.

I personally enjoyed the wry performances of soprano Karen Ydenberg and mezzo-soprano Majorie Poirier as Carmen’s cohorts Frasquita and Mercèdés (respectively). Never intentionally upstaging each other, their clever terzetto with Ms Shaham, “Les tringles des sisters tinaient” is a memourable high-point.

Maestro Anthony Walker leads the Vancouver Opera Orchestra with typical Australian expression and verve in a stellar performance of Bizet’s free-flowing score.

Allen Charles Klein’s elaborate set adapts readily to the town square, Lillas Pastia’s tavern, the smuggler’s hide-out and the periphery of a bull ring.

Just about everything about this production from the rich detail of the finely crafted costumes to the children’s well rehearsed first act performance of the "chorus of ragamuffins" is of the highest calibre. Vancouver Opera may have set the bar for future presentations.

© 2009 John Jane