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A Night of opéra-comique

San Diego
Civic Theater
05/14/2011 -  and May 17*, 20, 22, 2011
Georges Bizet: Carmen
Nino Surguladze (Carmen), Richard Leech (Don José), Talise Trevigne (Micaëla), Wayne Tigges (Escamillo), Kevin Langan (Zuniga), Scott Sikon (Moralès), Rachel Copeland (Frasquita), Priti Gandhi (Mercédès), Jeff Mattsey (Le Dancaïre), Joseph Hu (Le Remendado)
San Diego Opera Chorus, Kosta Popovic (Acting Chorus Master), San Diego Opera Orchestra, Jeff Thayer (Concert Master), Edoardo Müller (Conductor)
Sonja Frisell (Director), John Conklin (Scenic Designer), Susan Memmott-Allred (Costume Designer), Gary Marder (Lighting Designer), Steven W. Bryant (Wig and Makeup Designer), Kristina Cobarrubia (Choreographer), Mike K. Mahaffey (Fight Director)

(© Ken Howard)

Although he lived only to the age of 37, it’s amazing to see the musical development and ingenuities penned by Georges Bizet. Despite turbulences in his career, his music takes on a colorful distingué je ne sais quoi. That’s evident in the exotic Les Pêcheurs de perles (1863) and Djamileh (1872) as well as the melodic La Jolie fille de Perth, all lukewarmly received by the press; nonetheless, these works laid a firm foundation for his masterpiece, Carmen. As Bizet’s final opéra-comique, it’s San Diego Opera’s final production of the 2011 season.

(© Ken Howard)

Georgian mezzo soprano Nino Surguladze looks and acts the part of the femme fatale, adding an understated degree of salty sultriness to her character. The voice is richly smoky and alluring. A last minute replacement to Salvatore Licitra, Richard Leech sufficiently handles the role as Don José despite a gyrating and wearing vibrato. Micaëla is a satisfying fit and a first for Talise Trevigne as she sings with lyrical grace and demure, especially when reaching the deeper notes, while Wayne Tigges’ Escamillo brings to stage an aura of virility and nuanced machismo. His “Votre Toast” is confident and polished.

(© Ken Howard)

Other strengths in this Carmen are the subordinate roles of Frasquita, Mercédès, Le Dancaïre and Le Remendado, performed by Rachel Copeland, Priti Gandhi, Jeff Mattsey and Joseph Hu, respectively. Both women have a husky edge to their voices. All together, their antics make for a substantial and perky “Smuggler’s Quintet.” Kevin Langan’s Zuniga is firm and commanding as is Scott Sikon in the brief role as Moralès. (This production chooses to leave out Moralès’ rarely performed pantomime scene.) Ernest Guiraud’s recitative is incorporated; Lillas Pastia exists in name only. Chorus Master Kosta Popovic’s crowd scenes are some of the best moments in this Carmen, a rich blend of voices, adding a much needed shot in the arm.

Under the direction of regisseur Sonja Frisell, Carmen has pocketed moments of strength, but is thinly washed, two dimensional and uneventful. No where do we experience any degree of frisson. Edoardo Mueller's conducting was slow and sluggish to the end (which ran twenty minutes over the originally scheduled running time.) This indolent pacing hampered Kristina Cobarrubia’s already languid, unimaginative choreography. The fighting sequences under the command of Mike Mahaffey were unrealistic, diminishing the opera’s verismo value.

Spotlights were few and far between, interpreting Gary Marder’s approach to the principals as being insignificant. The three and a half plus hours were filled with broad swatches of light, varying in strength, yet yielding no intrinsic contrast.

Carmen is a perennial favorite among opera goers. There are memorable moments found in San Diego Opera’s production, but they may be hard to find.

Christie Grimstad



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