Kitic's Carmen sizzles
02/28/2007 - and 4, 8, 10 March 2007
Georges Bizet : Carmen
Milena Kitic (Carmen), Chad Shelton (Don José), Laquita Mitchell (Micaëla), Luis Ledesma (Escamillo), Joohee Choi (Frasquita), Christian Van Horn (Zuniga), Alexander Dobson (Moralès), Adriana Zabala (Mercédès), In Joon Jang (Le Dancaїre), Mark T. Panuccio (Le Remendado)
Henri Venanzi (Chorusmaster), Wesley Martin (The All-American Boys Chorus Director), John DeMain (Conductor).
Ron Daniels (Director), James Ingalls (Lighting Designer), Riccardo Hernandez (Scenic Designer), Constance Hoffman (Costume Designer), Lili del Castillo (Choreographer and Solo Dancer)
It is hard to imagine a composer living to only 36 years of age, yet producing a plethora of compositions and ending his career with what today is one of the greatest operas ever written. Georges Bizet spent a lifetime on operatic works while also devoting time to writing piano, orchestral, choral and incidental music, but perhaps the one work that is most closely associated to his name is that of Carmen.
Interestingly enough, none of Bizet’s operas were immediate successes as viewed by his fellow Parisians. Although he began composing comic works such as Le Docteur Miracle (1857) and Don Procopio (1859), what followed were pieces heavily influenced by Gounod, Meyerbeer, Halévy, and Verdi. From French grand opera such as Ivan IV (1865) to the lyrical Gounod-like works of Les Pêcheurs de perles (1863) and La Jolie fille de Perth (1867), this musical foundation eventually led him to work on his final verismo opera, Carmen (1875).
Carmen is a masterpiece, one that captivates audiences worldwide with colorful music and infectious dance. Once again, Opera Pacific brought the production to Segerstrom Hall featuring the well-known Milena Kitic in the title role. It is the Frenchman’s orchestral score that propels the action with set pieces. John DeMain’s leadership took command by supporting cast members with his strong direction of legatos, prestos and largos. The well apportioned dynamics such as the smoking number “Dans l’air, nous suivons des yeux”, the habanera and seguidille conveyed the mood and characters’ feelings at a particular point in time.
Ron Daniels updated the setting to the 1940’s to make its relevance more closely attuned to present day. This twist in artistic licensing incorporated other subtle variations to the score by eliminating full sections of duets, lack of spoken dialogue (hence the opera officially referred to as an opéra comique) and missing characters (Lillas Pastia).
The choruses sang Bizet’s exquisite music sufficiently, but lacked a sense of spontaneity and punch. Milena Kitic’s exceptional sassiness and sensuousness grounded the opera as the seductive femme fatale in love with jealous Don José sung by Chad Shelton. The tenor’s debut in Orange County personified the role in every sense with convincing theatrics and beautifully sung arias, especially his famous Flower Song (“La fleur que tu m’avais jetée”) in Act II and the Micaëla/Don José duet from Act I.
Newcomer Laquita Mitchell, the sheepishly dressed Micaёla, received warm approval during her two set pieces, “Votre mère avec moi sortait” in Act I and her “prière” in Act III, singing with a well executed musky mezzo voice despite the occasional vocal strain in her high tessitura.
For the first time Opera Pacific brought Christian Van Horn to sing the role of the imposing platoon commander Zuniga, appropriate and credible in voice and stature while Johee Choi’s debut reigned in with the rambunctious Frasquita. Her resounding (and at times overbearing) voice required stretching the limits in several climaxes. One could see her enthusiastic role as Carmen’s compadre; however, the acting was a bit over the top, equating that of a cheerleader. She was also joined by the equally entertaining quintet of Mércedès (Adriana Zabala), Le Dancaїre (In Joon Jang), Le Remendado (Mark T. Panuccio), and Carmen (Milena Kitic), in the bouncy and wildly paced “Nous avons en tête une affaire”, done with alarming preciseness and quick staccatos to exemplify the evening’s upcoming activities.
Escamillo, performed by returning Luis Ledesma, supplied the bass timbre as a fitting suitor to the capricious Carmen. Although well suited for this role, his voice reached a point of uneasy wavering and incoherency.
Another aspect to a successful performance is the choreography, an important ingredient in Carmen. Such a task was provided by Spanish trained dancer Lili del Castillo. Her solo dancing in Act II was the centerpiece of crazed heel stomping Flamenco while handling organization in large chorus numbers. Highly fluid were the movements, yet lacking in creativity with a sense of rigidity and predictable repeatability. Perhaps this conservative stance trumped due to Riccardo Hernandez’s angled stage floor.
Debuting as the Scenic Designer, Hernandez used simplified sets to a minimum. Creative for the minds with visual imagination, it was void of excitement to help motivate the performers on stage. Lighting provided by James Ingalls was certainly fitting throughout this three hour performance.
In summary, this Carmen has some attractive qualities, and will appeal to general audiences not entirely familiar with this work.