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Carmen returns

Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts
01/27/2010 -  & January 30, February 2, 5, 7, 9, 11, 14, 17, 20, 23, 27, 2010
Georges Bizet: Carmen
Rinat Shaham*/Anita Rachvelishvili (Carmen), Bryan Hymel*/Garrett Sorenson (Don José), Jessica Muirhead (Micaëla), Paul Gay (Escamillo), Teiya Kasahara*/Simone Osborne (Frasquita), Lauren Segal (Mercédès), Adam Luther (Le Remendado), Justin Welsh (Le Dancaïre), Alain Coulombe (Zuniga), Alexander Hajek (Moralès), Dennis O’Connor (Lilas Pastia/A Guide)
Canadian Opera Company Chorus, Canadian Children’s Opera Company, Sandra Horst (Chorus Master), Canadian Opera Company Orchestra, Rory Macdonald (Conductor)
Justin Way (Director), Michael Yeargan (Set Designer), François St-Aubin (Costume Designer), Aaron Black (Lighting Designer), Jane Johanson (Choreographer)

R. Shaham & B. Hymel(© Michael Cooper)

Michael Yeargan’s Carmen, new in 2005, returns to the Canadian Opera Company for a 12-performance run, this time under director Justin Way and conductor Rory Macdonald.

(The production is shared with L’Opéra de Montréal and San Diego Opera.)

Macdonald’s conducting is perfectly OK, and the orchestra and choruses (adults’ and children’s) are up the usual well-prepared standard of the COC.

The setting is updated to a rather drab corner of Spain in the Franco era. The verismo (as opposed to the exotic or romantic) side of the work is stressed. Lilas Pastia’s tavern, for example, is a truly shabby dive.

Rinat Shaham is a terrific Carmen vocally and histrionically. She joined the production in the final weeks of rehearsals (replacing an indisposed Beth Clayton) but this does not seem to have put her at a disadvantage. In the card scene her delivery of Carmen’s introspective reaction to the prediction of her death is absolutely riveting.

Don José s a bumpkin whose life takes a strange turn when this sexy spitfire Carmen happens along and hurls herself at him. Bryan Hymel’s portrayal of the soldier turned smuggler overdoes his passivity. The result is an occasional lessening of dramatic tension. However he does rise to the occasion when anguish is required, as in the final tragic scene.

Jessica Muirhead is a fine Micaëla. This role is an ideal fit for her voice and looks.

Paul Gay (Escamillo) is more a baritone than a bass-baritone. A decision seems to have been made to let the music do the swaggering for him - and to let the fact that he is tall determine his characterization of the matador.

The spoken dialogue (as originally intended for the Opéra Comique back in 1875) comes across well in the 2000-seat house. Special mention in this regard must go to Alain Coulombe, a rich-voiced Zuniga, and Justin Welsh, a bossy Le Dancäire. Carmen’s four smuggler pals are vividly characterized and strongly sung (as are the other comprimario roles). Special mention is due Lauren Segal (Mercédès), an intelligent young singer who must have the role of Carmen in her not-too-distant future.

There are a few problems with the set. The first two acts are played against stark back cloths, making the stage look unfinished. In Act I a wrought iron grille separates the front of the stage (where the soldiers are stationed) from the square where the cigarette girls appear. At times this gets in the way and so it rises into the flies, only to descend once again when needed. It also wobbles (shades of the company’s cheap set for Le Nozze di Figaro) - no wonder it fails to prevent Carmen’s escape from bondage.

All in all, a decent if not totally electrifying production.

Michael Johnson



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