Review by Terry Gaisin
Bizet’s 1875 opera ‘CARMEN’ is undoubtedly the most popular and beloved of the genre. Understandable given the libretto by Meihac & Halèvy; exceptional music and unrivalled lyrics. Who can’t instantly recall the memorable “ Toreador-a, don’t spit on the floor-a, we have a cuspidor-a; that’s what it’s for-a ♪ “!
The plot deals with a conscientious Spanish soldier, engaged to a hometown girl. He meets a sexy Gypsy; and is ordered to arrest her. Falls head-over-heels and lets her escape. After release he re-joins her, but she meets a popular bullfighter. The soldier is jealous and stabs her -Curtain & rousing applause.
The NAO now has an offshoot – ‘BrottOpera’ and while not staged in the grand (and Lamborghini-expensive) manner; a laudable effort is made to bridge the gap between fancy and concert presentations. For ‘Carmen’, the set is mostly the scaffolding ubiquitously seen at a subdivision construction site; coupled with a bench, some tables & a desk. Ingenious lighting and a superbly talented cast of singer/actors make this recap a better-than-average presentation.
The title role is sung by mezzo Beste Kalender and she smolders. Every Body-movement and stance reflects a seething sensuality, even her castanets are orchestral in effect. Fortunately, stage director Patrick Hansen has omitted her chewing on a rose: – a tacky image that’s overused. Her reading of the Act I philosophical ‘L’amour et un oiseau rebelle’ had the audience and her on-stage counterparts noticeably attentive. Her nemesis is Justin Stolz whose tenor voice is exceptionally emotional. From professing love to expressing virulent jealousy, his arias mirror the thespian mood he must project. Again, Hansen’s touch is overt in both the blocking and stance that Stolz demonstrates to underline the various moods he must convey.
There is vibrant support supplied by the expressive voice of Lauren Margison whose besotted but outclassed love for Don José makes her the most sympathetic of the love-triangle, or quadrilateral once Escamillo enters the equation. This last piece of the rectangle is the toréador and Johnathon Kirby brings the oodles of charisma that one associates with a pop-star athletic celebrity. His rich baritone voice is perfectly suited to the role’s requisite powerhouse aria ‘votre toast je peux vous le rendre’ which is basically a response to the compliments his fans have bestowed. Familiarly called ‘The toreador Song’ the lyrics aren’t what was quoted in the opening paragraph; rather- they are an iteration of what every athlete experiences before; during; or after a match or sports event.
In the support roles, Jeremy Ludwig’s ‘Zuniga’, – Jose’s superior officer, offers more acting than vocal opportunity, but his contribution is pivotal. Unusually, he’s slain by Don Jose…normally the guy is left restrained while the smugglers escape. Speaking of the brigands that Carmen & Jose join, the scene where they format their union and plot is illuminated by flashlights; a bit of humor as well as creative stage-work. Again, the ingenuity of Hansen is displayed. All five felons give full measure of contribution to the overall outcome. The utilization of the Hamilton Children’s Choir is a cute but viable addition to the presentation.
Since the demise of Opera Hamilton, plus a few others with which this copyist and his muse have been associated, opportunities to enjoy the genus has diminished. Now we learn that the city of Hamilton will contribute financial support to this operation. Selfishly, we rejoice and look forward to seeing more ‘Traviata’; “Bohème”; flutterby! “Nabucco”; Trovatore and of course – AIDA.
“Libiamo” or – “Let’s drink to that”! and by the by, we overheard some seatmates remarking on the play being called “Comique”. In Opera this does NOT mean funny; it’s the format wherein there is spoken dialogue between arias. The plot is conclusively tragic.