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Condensation Electrifies

New York
West End Theater
05/07/2019 -  & May 8, 9, 10, 11, 2019
Georges Bizet: La Tragédie de Carmen (arr. Marius Constant)
Tahanee Aluwihare*/Maggie Valdman (Carmen), Matthew Pearce*/Fred Schlick (Don José), Lara Secord-Haid*/Sydney Kucine (Micaëla), Young-Kwang Yoo*/Andrew Wannigman (Escamillo)
Chamber Ensemble, Rebecca Tong (Conductor)
Peter Brook, Jean-Claude Carrière (Adaptation), Victoria Collado (Stage Director), Anna Driftmier (Scenographer, Costume Designer), Charlotte McPhearson (Lighting Designer)

Carmen is opera at its very best. War horses tend to be. How to call our attention to the details that make an opera great? The iconic director Peter Brook condensed Carmen to its essence in the four main characters, whose interaction touches every emotion on the spectrum of human feeling. Not a phrase from the music that creates these characters and lingers in our hearts and minds seems to be missing in a work that lasts less than ninety minutes. (Carmen usually takes around three hours). You leave this abbreviated opera production feeling enriched and satisfied.

Director Victoria Collado and Conductor Rebecca Tong worked together closely to highlight the characters and music. A pool of water is created to lap on stage and reflect in constant changes on the walls of the West End Theater. Water is kicked up amusing sprays and also to eventually drowns Carmen.

Don José is sung by Matthew Pearce in a robust tenor. Pearce shaped an arc from confident soldier responding to the hot dancing of a cigarette factory girl, to a withered man, eroded by her duplicity. Yet Don José does not so lose himself in his infatuation that he loses his command. This characterization has him focused on Carmen’s every move and the moves of everyone around her. He gives her one last chance before he fulfills the prophecy of the Tarot cards, torn pieces of which lie floating on the water's surface. She does not take him up.

Lara Secord-Haid as Micaëla is sweet, but she also has more spine than usual. She is less a wimp than a courageous girl who loves Don José and his mother. She is also less bewildered than crushed by José's defection. Her portrayal and singing is deeply felt. She actually has a cat fight with Carmen as Carmen begins her unstoppable seduction.

Tahanee Aluwihare as Carmen sidled on stage in a form-fitting red dress with deep décolletage. Besides the two principals, three other men who prowled the set desire her. It’s a little difficult to imagine that Don José has a chance, but not until Carmen reads the Tarot cards does she finally throw her lot in with the toreador Escamillo, who for the first time finds himself indelibly smitten. Dancing, clicking, seducing, Aluwihare sings with a big rich mezzo, taking in the audience as well as her suitors.

Escamillo could be the least attractive of the quartet, but Young-Kwang Yoo has such a magnificent voice that his toreador is terrific. As he struts his stuff, he masterfully uses his nuanced bass baritone to wrap us into the toreador's sense of self. His puffed up pride translates well into song.

The production reminds us that shaping a classic differently does not have to diminish the original, A shortened form may be more attractive to modern audiences. Yet this one held all of the ripping musical variety and lyricism of the original. Brook hit the high points and so does the City Lyric. It was a terrific evening of musical theater.

Susan Hall



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