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Carmen scores again

The Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts
04/12/2016 -  & April 17, 20, 23, 28, 30, May 4*, 6, 8, 10, 12, 13, 15, 2016
George Bizet: Carmen
Anita Rachvelishvili*/Clémentine Margaine (Carmen), Russell Thomas*/David Pomeroy (Don Jose), Simone Osborne*/Karine Boucher (Micaëla), Christian Van Horne*/Zachary Nelson (Escamillo), Alain Coulombe (Zuniga), Peter Barrett (Moralès), Sasha Djihanian Frasquita), Charlotte Burrage (Mercédès), Iain MacNeil (Le Dancaïre), Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure (Le Remendado)
The Canadian Opera Company Chorus, Sandra Horst (chorus master), The Canadian Opera Company Orchestra, Paolo Cariganani (conductor)
Joel Ivany (director), Michael Yeargan (set designer), François St-Aubain (costume designer), Jason Hand (lighting designer)

R. Thomas, A. Rachvilishvili (© Michael Cooper)

When this production was first produced in Toronto in 2005, theatre student Joel Ivany was a supernumerary. Eleven years later he is the director of the enterprising vest-pocket Against the Grain Theatre Company and directing this revival of Carmen. It has always been an agreeably engaging show, updated to the mid-twentieth century. Ivany’s approach is to use every device imaginable to heighten audience involvement.

The very start of the opera is unusual. We all expect the lowering of lights followed by a brief pause before the conductor enters to applause followed by a few moments for everything to settle down before the downbeat. Instead the lights dim and instantly the brash, jolting overture is launched, and the same thing happens after the interval for the prologue to the mountain scene. I’ve seen this surprise approach used in spoken theatre - it grabs the audience by the scruff of the neck and instills an instant sense of urgency.

Similarly in the final scene, the bullfight procession and its attendant hucksters make their way down the aisles of the theatre. Those seated at orchestra level benefit most from this but it helps with the immersive effect.

It helps when the title role is performed by Georgian mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvilishvili for whom every note and gesture seem to be totally natural. Her sumptuous voice embraces the entire auditorium with no visible effort on her part. A scene that starts off rather offhandedly (even lazily) can build to an explosive finish. Conductor Paolo Carignani seems to be very much on the same page as the director throughout.

Russell Thomas was last here in 2012 as Offenbach’s Hoffmann and seemed somewhat stolid of presence then. Not so the case here. The increasing fascination that Carmen has for him was well portrayed. His delivery of the flower song had a truly anguished, desperate edge. His burly presence adds to the character’s visceral quality.

Christian Van Horne has both the voice and physique for the role of Escamillo. Simone Osborne has all the winsomeness one would want in Micaëla but vocally seems a shade lacking for the role. Micaëla should provide some degree of counterweight to Carmen, a tall order when facing a force of nature like Ms Rachvilishvili. The numerous comprimario roles are all well handled with, for example, almost reckless speed in the quartet. It’s wonderful when “dangerous” moments end up being handled so well.

The four principle roles are double cast for the 13-performance run. Word of mouth re the second cast has been very positive, with the same strong interpersonal magnetism in evidence.

Once again Carmen proves its worth, bringing in new audience while satisfying even the jaded regulars.

Michael Johnson



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