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Mezzo Perez lifts Carmen out of the familiar

Keller Auditorium
09/21/2007 -  and Sept. 23, 25, 27, 29 2007
Georges Bizet: Carmen

Jossie Perez (Carmen), Richard Troxell (Don Jose), Mark Doss (Escamillo), Maureen O’Flynn (Micaela), Hannah Sharene Penn (Mercedes), Ron Brallier (Lillas Pastia), Christopher Clayton (El Dancairo), Brendan Tuohy (El Remendado), Richard Zeller (Morales), Jeffrey Beruan (Zuniga), Sharin Apostolou (Frasquita)
Portland Opera Chorus, Robert Ainsley (chorus director), Portland Opera Orchestra, Joseph Colaneri (conductor)
Nicolette Molnar (stage director), Alan Burnett (lighting designer)

How many Carmens have we lived through, how many Toreador Songs have we heard? Enough to think the next will make our eyes roll. A gorgeous no-rules gypsy, a strutting toreador, and all that Latin passion could send us laughably over the top in this minimalist age.

Hey, roll with it!

Opera novices will be thrilled by Portland’s Opera’s production starring the red-hot Puerto Rican Jossie Perez. (If you’re a seasoned operagoer, you’d be near death not to be entertained.)

Still simmering after singing Carmen this summer under Seiji Ozawa at Japan’s Saito Kinen Festival, Perez is utterly convincing as the turbulent gypsy who can wrap any man – even a stodgy, duty-driven soldier like Don Jose (Richard Troxell) – around her playful finger. Yet she brings far more to the role than good looks, flirtatious stage savvy, and a hefty voice. Steadily on stage for four acts, she milks her character’s tempestuousness and stubbornness until she’s killed off in a crime of passion.

A voice must ripen to pull off the demanding mezzo-soprano role that carries the opera, and when a voice grows into Carmen’s range and depth, alas, many bodies grow out of it. But Perez looks, sings and feels the part that is making her Carmen a draw on a number of stages. (She was a hit in the Boston Lyric production as well.) She maxes out the part in her red spike heels, ferociously flinging her body from emotion to emotion, flashing her smoldering eyes, lighting up the stage – and the audience as well. As she sings, “free was I born and free will I die!” her fierce uninhibited spirit makes us love her today.

Directed by Nicolette Molnar, the three-hour opera is a pull-out-the-stops production with a full chorus, including children that bounce about. Complex sets from the final act’s bull-fighting arena bleachers (don’t forget the toreador) to sparkling café lights and street scenes remain uncluttered because the lighting and staging are so deft.

Troxell’s portrayal of the conflicted Don Jose, as well as Maureen O’Flynn, whose comeback from a neck injury allowed her to sing Micaela with her characteristically angelic soprano, were both noteworthy.

Molnar sets the opera in Cuba in post-World War II when high-style glamour and tobacco factories echoed the gap between the rich and the poor. This chaotic time mirrors the heat and heart of Carmen’s story. It works.

When the opera opened in 1875, Georges Bizet’s dramatically powered music about a heroine proved too off the social grid for the Parisian bourgeoisie. Poor Bizet, dead three months later, did not see his box-office failure turn into the most popular opera of contemporary times. So much for visionary audiences.

Portland Opera's website

Angela Allen



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