xGeorges Bizet's Carmen

In French with English surtitles

Dates & Venue 27 & 28 September 2, 3, 4 & 5 October 2014, 7.30pm (matinees performances at 2pm on 28 Sept & 5 Oct) | Queen Elizabeth Theatre

Reviewer Ed Farolan

Music Director Jacques Lacombe mentions in his programme notes that Bizet wanted to be different from the current experience of opera by creating a "real" feeling and added spoken dialogue to his piece. However, the conservative audience wasn't ready for this, and when it opened at the Opera-Comique in 1875, it elicited reactions of hostility from critics and three months later, he died of of frustration from its commercial failure.

Even VO's current production could elicit the same reaction. The setting created in this production takes place in a town somewhere in Latin America in the 1930s. This can cause a lot of complications. For example, the original script still maintains the names of the locales in Spain such as Navarra. If you want to do a 20th century version in Latin America, you'll need to change the places mentioned in the libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovi Halevy.

Despite its failure in 1875, Carmen within a few years enjoyed successful performances throughout Europe, including the admiration of Brahms and Wagner. Indeed, this is a unique opera because it is partly spoken, and the singers not only sing but dance and act. In fact, these days, there doesn't seem to be a line drawn anymore between musicals and operas. Musicals like West Side Story and Sweeney Todd are now operas, thanks to the avant-garde vision of Bizet.

Opera singers, just like actors today, can no longer stick to just one talent. If you're a singer, you have to be flexible enough to also dance and act. Gone are the days of the Actors' Studio where just acting was good enough. Today, opera singers have to learn how to dance and act too. Mezzo-Soprano Kate Aldrich (Carmen) did a fantastic job dancing with castanets and acting the role of the ruthless gypsy who would love and drop a lover when a new one comes along.

Tenor Richard Troxell also did a fine acting job as the star-crossed lover, singing and acting with passion and ardor. Soprano Marianne Fiset got a loud applause at curtain call for her role as Micaela. Her aria "Je dis que rien ne m'épouvante" was moving. A special mention for Chorus Director Leslie Dala: "March of Toreadors" got me humming long after the show.

In commemorating VO's first production of Carmen in 1960, opening night was also the occasion to present VO with a plaque naming them to the BC Entertainment Hall of Fame. The certificate was presented by Vancouver Councillor Elizabeth Ball who at one time played a Vestal Virgin in one of VO's operas, according to James Wright, VO's General Director, who was delighted to receive the award on behalf of the company.

© 2014 Ed Farolan