Opera News Review: Carmen

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Carmen
CENTRAL CITY, CO
Central City Opera
7/12/17
CENTRAL CITY OPERA’S past few seasons, which experimented with a sprinkle of performances away from its home theater, evidently brought mixed results for the company. This summer’s schedule listed no run-out visits to far-off Denver or Colorado Springs. Instead, operagoers had to travel the forty winding miles from Denver, then trudge uphill past rows of casinos to attend main-stage productions in the intimate 1878 Opera House—just as they have for eighty-five summers. Those willing to make the trek for Central City’s season-opening Carmen found it mostly worth the drive.

This Carmen was a nimbly paced, decently sung period staging (seen July 12 matinee). Director Jose Maria Condemi went all-out in accentuating the title character’s magnetic sexuality, starting with an amusing bit of mime during the quiet moments of the overture: the raised curtain revealed a love-struck José, drawn amorously up a set of stairs to be near Carmen, who seductively took a puff on her cigarette and literally blew him off. The diminutive, high-energy soprano Emily Pulley, a frequent presence on the Central City stage, seemed to revel in Carmen’s powers of persuasion, making eyebrow-raising use of her gams to arouse suitors, and summoning memories of her leggy performance as Musetta for Opera Colorado a few years back. In his company debut, Adriano Graziani sang Don José with passion and naturalness. Pulley and Graziani created a welcome chemistry for the two ill-fated lovers that was hard to ignore, even when the cramped stage was fully populated by chorus members. Also making a company debut, Angela Mortellaro delivered a likable Micaela, sporting blonde braids that made her look more Swedish than Spanish. Michael Mayes commanded the stage as Escamillo, just as he did as Scarpia in last summer’s Tosca. Soldiers and street urchins were moved around effectively by Condemi, who wisely chose to avoid inserting fussy, obtrusive stage business.

Vocally, the cast proved capable, if inconsistent. Pulley maintained vocal and dramatic clarity throughout, apart from some expected discomfort in the lower range in as role usually sung these days by mezzo-sopranos. Her habanera was standard-issue flirtatious, while the Seguidillafeatured one of the production’s most novel ideas, as Pulley sang to José while playfully rolling around the stage in an office chair, her hands tied behind. (Later in the opera, Pulley revealed a need for more practice on the castanets.)

Graziani’s powerful tenor sounded uncomfortably harsh in the first half of the opera; he gained warmth and focus later on, but “La fleur que tu m’avais jetée” lacked the needed sincerity, sweetness and intimacy. Surprisingly, Mayes offered a disappointing “Votre toast,” which showed more bluster and swagger than spot-on singing. Mortellaro’s muscular soprano sounded unfocused in “Je dis que rien ne m’épouvante.” The singers handled the French dialogue efficiently, showing fine command of the tricky ensemble demands of the smuggler’s quintet and card trio, in which Heidi Middendorf (Frasquita) and Kira Dills-DeSurra (Mercedes) performed flawlessly. Additional proof of the continued success of the company’s long-standing training program came from the solid work by apprentice artists Tim Murray (Morales) and Tyler Putnam (Zuniga). The street urchins, drawn from the Colorado Children’s Chorale, marched and sang with delightful precision. Michael B. Raiford’s simple two-story unit set (augmented by a moveable staircase) functioned well. Apart from an unattractive green number worn by Pulley in the final scene, Sara Jean Tosetti’s costumes looked attractive. David Martin Jacques’s tasteful lighting was enhanced by a minimal use of follow spots. In the pit, Adam Turner chose ideal tempos throughout, drawing terrific playing from his orchestra.
—Marc Shulgold, Opera News

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