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Singing and Dancing

Brown Theater, Wortham Theater Center
04/25/2014 -  and April 27, 30, May 2, 4, 8, 10, 2014
Georges Bizet: Carmen
Ana María Martínez (Carmen), Brandon Jovanovich (Don José), Ryan McKinny (Escamillo), Uliana Alexyuk (Frasquita), Carolyn Sproule (Mercédès), Samuel Schultz (Moralès), Natalya Romaniw (Micaela), Robert Gleadow (Zuniga), Reginald Smith Jr. (Le Dancaïre), John McVeigh (Le Remendado)
Houston Grand Opera Orchestra and Chorus, Rory Macdonald (Conductor)
Rob Ashford (Director), David Rockwell (Set Designer), Julie Weiss (Costume Designer), Donald Holder (Lighting Designer)

A. Martínez, C. Sproule, U. Alexyuk, R. Smith Jr. (© Lynn Lane)

Coming hard on the heels of a visually and vocally superlative Das Rheingold, HGO's new production of Carmen has a lot to live up to. Drawing primarily on its current and former studio artists, the casting leaves much room to grow, though many high points exist.

Rory Macdonald's zippy tempo for the "Prelude" set the tone for the interpretation of the opera, one that played up contrasts in amplitude and velocity on the orchestral side, counterbalancing a mostly loud, one-dimensional approach from the singers. Ana María Martínez, looking stunning, acting the sassy coquette and dancing up a storm, sang well, but the strongest part of her voice sits too high for this role. Brandon Jovanovich has a thrilling high register, but one that isn't particularly nuanced. His Don José was too vulnerable, Martínez's Carmen too devious, and in the end both characters came off as needlessly exaggerated, and neither particularly likeable.

Uliana Alexyuk continues to impress. Her Frasquita brought forth the soaring, consistent vocal production and acting skills that were first seen in her star turn as Gilda in this season's Rigoletto. That production also featured a sensational performance from Ryan McKinny in its title role. Here, as Escamillo, he was not as convincing physically, but equally impressive vocally. Carolyn Sproule joined Martínez and Alexyuk to make a solid trio throughout the second act. With the suppression of the libretto's spoken dialogue, the role of Micaela is hard to get a grasp on, but Natalya Romaniw encouraged empathy with her tender singing.

The slick visual production framed the action of the drama nicely, and gave ample room for director Rob Ashford's effective choreography, easily the visual standout of the show. Even Martínez joined in, dancing on par with the pros, and making the Lilas Pastia scene a bona fide showstopper. The orchestra delighted in Bizet's colorful, visionary orchestration, while the always-excellent HGO chorus added welcome nuance and thrill to the large set pieces.

Marcus Karl Maroney



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