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Too Much of a Muchness. Then Too Little - Too Late

Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts
11/12/2016 -  & November 13*, 15, 18, 19 (Miami), December 1, 3 (Fort Lauderdale), 2016
Georges Bizet: Carmen
Maria José Montiel/Tara Venditti* (Carmen), Rafael Davila/Alok Kumar (Don José), Hailey Clark (Micaëla), Ryan Kuster/Calvin Griffin* (Escamillo), Elena Galván/Laura León* (Frasquita), Courtney Miller (Mercédès), Alex Soare (Zuniga), Nicholas J. Ward (Moralès), Benjamin Taylor (Le Dancaïre), Dominick Corbacio/Michael Kuhn* (Remendado)
Florida Grand Opera Chorus, Katherine Kozak (chorus master), Florida Grand Opera Orchestra, Ramón Tebar (conductor)
Bernard Uzan (director), R. Keith Brumley (scenic design), Malabrar Limited (costume design), Kenneth Yunker (lighting design), Rosa Mercedes (choreography)

H. Clark, A. Kumar (© Ben Werley)

Everyone wants this one but rarely is the audience satisfied. And rarely is the audience as dissatisfied as it was at Florida Grand Opera’s last offering. That odious anger still clings to the walls of the Ziff Opera/Ballet House six years since the assault. Not that on the musical side, that production was pretty terrific.

In a strange way Carmen is a challenge. Such familiarity makes it difficult; an overwhelming amount of comparison. Florida Grand Opera has chosen a production probably overly traditional yet with a fine director like Bernard Uzan, we get some much needed clarity. For example Moralès (but why doesn’t the strong voiced Nicolas J. Ward see a barber) and Zuniga are well distinguished this time. The card trio is blocked so it points are particularly clear.

Unfortunately Uzan feels a desire to stuff the staging with something he has probably tried every time he has worked on this opera. Not a musical morsel goes by when we are just allowed to enjoy Bizet’s mastery. The opening, with Carmen’s body being dragged away by toreros, is the start of this absurdity (why should first timers be told the ending in advance and what purpose is this for Carmen veterans). Before the opera ends, this sort of trickery has been done to death, and the opera ends with pouty faced Don José killing Carmen with a sucker punch. And what the hell is Micaëla doing there?

So let’s forget the direction and concentrate on the music. There is a lot here which is good. Without question the vocal highlight was Hailey Clark whose Micaëla shows that this girl really is almost as tough (though not rough) as her rival, her kindness never sweet. This woman has an unwavering moral compass.

Tara Vendetti is a Carmen of lovely voice but there is something almost ladylike in her demeanor. Carmen is not a slut; her compass might not point in the direction of Micaëla’s, but her self-esteem isn’t any less impassioned. Venditti hasn’t learned the full potential of her sexiness. This is a Carmen-in-training, all of the materials are there but must find better focus to create the required force of nature.

The two other females, Laura León (Frasquita) and Courtney Miller (Mercédès), demonstrated tremendous support. The card trio followed by “Quant au douanier ...” were exceptional.

The men were not on the same level. Alok Kumar’s José started off nicely in his duet with Micaëla and made a perfect naive country boy. But his Flower Song showed little legato and command; it wasn’t moving. Then he turned around and surprised with a knockout third act ending where he chillingly let Carmen know she hadn’t seen the last of him. His best moments were in the last act where he showed a man gone insane. The drama was getting intense until he committed his weakling assault. This José would have never been such a wimp. He was enraged.

The Escamillo of Calvin Griffin looked good. Thin and tall he carried himself with confidence. But sadly his voice never rose to give this simple character any beauty. The voice seems to have no music. Mr. Griffin is starting in the big leagues; he must find that music soon.

Benjamin Taylor (Le Dancaïre) and Michael Kuhn (Remendado) were particularly solid and professional in the great second act quintet. Here one realizes just how difficult is this opera’s music. They made it seem easy.

Ramón Tebar led a thrilling overture but almost immediately the tempos slackened, though “Les tringles des sistres tintaient” was intoxicating in its rise to fever pitch. The children’s chorus was good but like so much of this production felt unfulfilled. The adult chorus is remarkably strong, but as has been true in past seasons, is one of the most physically shabby one will see. This is theatre, cut your hair and go to the gym.

For many (including myself) this is the first experiencing Carmen with spoken recitatives. But what is the point for a non-French speaking community.

The design side of this production is remarkably ordinary. Seville is reduced to inspire the feel of a miniature golf course. I have never seen a Carmen looking so undernourished in size. Costumes were run-of-the-mill which might be a good thing considering the direction. Lighting, like the direction, was too clever by half. And such uninspired choreography, this is Miami, ya know.

With the intermission not occurring until an hour and forty five minutes (it ended with the Act Three entr’acte, again, another unnecessary pantomime) this made for an exhausting afternoon.

Better luck next time Carmen because this is Miami, it won’t be too long before we see you again.

Jeff Haller



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