September 23, 2016

in Operas

Opera (1875)
Music by Georges Bizet
Libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy

Conductor: David Angus
Production: Calixto Bieito

A coproduction with Boston Lyric Opera
and San Francisco Opera
Boston Opera House, Washington Street
Theater District, Boston, MA
September 23 – October 2, 2016

With Jennifer Johnson Cano (Carmen), Roger Honeywell (Don José), Michael Mayes (Escamillo), Chelsea Basler (Micaëla), Heather Gallagher (Mercédès), Yusef Lamber (Lillas Pastia), Vincent Turregano (Morales), Liam Moran (Zuniga), Gina DeFreitas (Manuelita), Kathryn Skemp Moran (Frasquita),Junichi Fukuda (Torero), Andrew Garland (El Dancairo), Samuel Levine (El Remendado), Lily Waters (Girl)

Roger Honeywell as Don José, Jennifer Johnson Cano as Carmen in 'Carmen'

Roger Honeywell as Don José
Jennifer Johnson Cano as Carmen
in “Carmen”
Photo: T. Charles Erickson
Courtesy of Boston Lyric Opera

A wonderfully and daringly staged production of the great tragic classic, with a superb and sonorous diva in the leading role.

Poor Carmen (Jennifer Johnson Cano) draws those guys in and just can’t manage what she does to them. Don José (Roger Honeywell) falls for her despite the appeals of home-town girl Micaëla (Chelsea Basler) who tries to draw him in with the your poor mother misses you back at home card. But he is high as a kite on Carmen potion and won’t budge. Meanwhile, she tires of the poor guy and herself gets drawn in by a big, brassy hunk of a matador, Escamillo (Michael Hayes). Escamillo kills bulls for a living, but Don José is aimed for far worse.

Jennifer Johnson Cano, in the lead role here, is extremely effective. Her voice is like a dark, rich honey, supple, warm, sweet and overflowing. She’s also a good actress, sultry and provocative while sympathetic enough. The role is tricky in that sense – how to make Carmen desirable and desirous while telling her tangled story with Don José and Escamillo from her point of view. She’s a difficult and complex woman, that Carmen, but we get reverberations of the inside story from Cano’s performance.

This is a pretty wild production. Production designer Calixto Bieito has made all kinds of interesting and pretty gutsy choices for the staging and they work really well.

At the beginning of the performance one watches a row of soldiers singing, and around them a guy is running in his underwear.

Kids overflow everywhere and when they sing they really sound like kids. They are all over the place, somewhat unkempt, not totally in sync musically, and it’s wonderful.

That same kind of energy prevails in all sorts of ways throughout the production.

Cars show up onstage at various points, sometimes blaring their headlights at the audience. Gangs of soldiers and townspeople sweep in hordes across the stage. The women’s chorus comes forward to smoke. It’s all engaging and hilarious.

The general energy and degree of unruliness works exceptionally well in conjunction with Bizet’s music which is catchy but sometimes a little too governed and sleek and this kind of production gives it the sandpaper roughness it really needs.

Among all the staging elements which prod and unsettle in an enlivening way two stand out: a totally in the buff dance routine by a man, shadowed by some muting of lighting but otherwise au naturel, and the dropping of and dismantling of a large architectural bull which forms part of the set.

The first more or less speaks for itself – it’s graceful, beautiful, and wonderfully X-rated, a glance in the direction of exposure and eroticism that lies at the core of Carmen’s drama. The second is just plain startling – the set falls – kaboom – flat on the stage and the cast dismantles it and carries it off. High drama for little cost! It seems that the BLO, which only presents six or so performances of each production, figures out how to provide considerable dramatic value out of relatively little production infrastructure. It’s quite a feat.

Bullfight Scene from 'Carmen'

Bullfight Scene
from “Carmen”
Photo: T. Charles Erickson
Courtesy of Boston Lyric Opera

Apart from Jennifer Johnson Cano’s amazing voice, there are some others that are noteworthy. As Micaëla, Chelsea Basler provides a delicious velvety tone, and as Mercédès, Heather Gallagher is full and rich.

As Don José, Roger Honeywell provided a decent dramatic presence, but, particularly in contrast with Jennifer Johnson Cano’s resounding tone, his seemed a little thin and wiry. As the evening went on, however, it filled out.

– BADMan

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