Cooperstown, NY – What makes a night at the opera ultimately memorable? For me, it’s not just a specific thing or a certain singer, it’s the overall experience. To be drawn in by the music and singing, captivated by the acting and directing, and connected with the characters on an emotional level – that’s a night to remember in the theater. In Glimmerglass Opera’s current season, Georges Bizet’s Carmen undoubtedly falls within this description. This new production directed by renowned theatre director, Anne Bogart, is a gripping and visceral experience. A last minute cast change, young artist Aleksey Bogdanov as Escamillo for Keith Miller, proved to also add a wonderfully memorable moment to this must-see production.
Glimmerglass’ Carmen is unique to the countless others due to the care that is taken in developing the tension already built within the story. Bogart describes in the program notes that, “bullfighting is a prominent influence on our production.” Actors filter on the stage in the minutes leading up to the downbeat and as the house lights begin to dim there is a dramatic light change leading straight into the overture. The action on stage at the beginning of the opera are many times abrupt, almost choreographed in nature, but are executed with extreme purpose and dripping with apprehension. Every actor on stage is aware of the pending darkness that looms in the air and has a unique reaction that propels the unfolding drama. The emblematic, “dance-to-the-death” bullfight is palpable.
The set, designed by James Schuette, consists of a large boxed-in area with three short walls and a number of doors. The back walls shift and disappear to create the rugged outdoor setting in Act 3, this exposes the entire back wall of the stage area, most of which can see throughout the production. One could describe the set as simple but it amplifies the raw and undeniably humanistic feel to the production. Robert Wierzel’s lighting design complements the emotional drama by exposing the characters in white light with particularly great usage of foot lights.
The cast and refined orchestra members are lead with great precision and emotion by David Angus. Ginger Costa-Jackson, a very young graduate of the Met’s Lindemann Young Artist Program, captures Carmen’s stubbornness and sexual natures to a fine degree. Her voice has a fitting dusky timbre for the title role and shines at the top end of her range. Age plays somewhat of a handicap for Costa-Jackson (she states her age, under 30, in the program notes), as the voice still needs time to mature into this daunting role. The music of Carmen demands a great deal of chest voice and emotional energy, which Costa-Jackson has, but fatigue does seem to set in at times. Speaking of fatigue, the role of Don José is one of the most exhausting tenor roles in the repertoire. Adam Diegel, a towering, solid man, sings the role with extreme gusto. His piercingly smooth voice fills the Alice Busch Opera Theater. Pacing himself rather well in this tiring role, he gives a riveting performance.
Aleksey Bogdanov, the delight of the evening, is a barrel-chested baritone with an incredibly powerful voice. With his world-class vocal technique and commanding stage presence one would have a hard time believing that he was the young artist understudy. The audience showered him with a lengthy ovation after he sang a rousing performance of the ever-famous Toreador song. Bogdanov was built for this role and deserves to perform the role a few more times in this current run (Michael Todd Simpson is set to replace Keith Miller who withdrew from the production).
Micaëla is sometimes a thankless role because her meek, church-mouse-like mannerisms do not stand up well against the rest of the complex cast of characters. However, this production has many tender moments between Don José and Micaëla that leave youcheering for her to win over José. Anya Matanovic performed the role of Micaëla with beautiful simplicity and her voice soared in her aria Je dis que rien ne m’épouvante.
The troupe of smugglers – Lindsay Russell as Frasquita, Cynthia Hanna as Mercedes, Alex Lawerence as ElDancaïro, and Juan José De León as El Remendado – are a group of excellent singers. Lawerence demands your attention while on stage and Russell was a vocal standout.
This production, again, is a must-see. The final scene is worth the price of admission as the production’s celebration of the bullfight reaches it greatest height… I’d rather not ruin it for you… go see it! Glimmerglass Opera’s Carmen runs a total of fourteen times, ending on August 23, 2011. For tickets visit www.glimmerglass.org
Photos by Julieta Cervantes