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Not Flawless but Makes the Grade

Symphony Hall
11/19/2010 -  & November 20, 21
Georges Bizet: Carmen
Beth Clayton (Carmen), Fernando de la Mora (Don José), Janinah Burnett (Micaëla), Luis Ledesma (Escamillo), Peter Volpe (Zuniga), Rebecca Sjöwall (Frasquita), Stephanie Foley Davis (Mercédès), Cameron Schutza (Le Remendado), Kevin Wetzel (Le Dancaïre/Moralès)
Arizona Opera Orchestra and Chorus, Henri Venanzi (chorus master), Joel Revzen (conductor)
Kay Walker Castaldo (director), Patricia A. Hibbert (costume designer), Bernard Uzan & Michael Baumgarten (sets), Peggy Hickey (choreography), Michael Baumgarten (lighting designer)

B. Clayton (© Tim Fuller/courtesy of AZ Opera)

Kay Walker Castaldo has earned a solid reputation as an opera director throughout the United States and abroad. This Arizona Opera 40th anniversary season presentation of Carmen may not be lavish, nor exempt from several flaws and inadequacies (the idea of setting the four acts inside the bullring - when none of them should - is misleading and impedes the dramatic flow of the action, hardly any spoken dialogues are heard, unjustified cuts in the score are perpetrated, and an overwhelming choreography that obliterates the acting part of the chorus, confined in the dark, awkwardly sitting on the tiers of the bullring) but it is not deprived from qualities and more or less falls within the scope of what most audiences are accustomed to see nowadays. Effective lighting, a stylized set, and costumes create a sultry and colorful atmosphere without inflicting a flashy, postcard-like Spain on the spectator. And the singing is marked by talent.

Carmen is most likely Beth Clayton's signature role. She has sung the part to much acclaim in many opera houses, at home and around the world. Clayton has stage presence. Vocally - as well as physically - she dominates an otherwise interesting cast. Her Carmen does more than gyrating her hips or entering a spit curl contest; she is vibrant and sexy, with no hint of vulgarity, also revealing a degree of vulnerability. The message she conveys is the one we expect: that of a free spirit who never compromises, and believes "above all, in intoxicating freedom" (Act 2). Her mezzo is fruity, warm, intense, and notes are colored all along suitably. In spite of resorting to chest register in the card aria in Act 3, and in the the final duet, Clayton signs a vividly compelling, sharp and enviable performance in an impeccable French. The same does not go for Luis Ledesma's Escamillo. He portrays a restless and fidgety bullfighter whose account of "Votre toast, je peux vous le rendre" is barely convincing. However, in act 3, his character gains in depth and we are left on a much better impression.
Mexican tenor Fernando de la Mora signs an attractive Don José. The voice fits the part, it is lyrical and firm-toned. His rendition of the "La fleur que tu m'avais jetée" has much to offer, notably a soft chromatic climbing on "et j'étais une chose à toi" that is too often belted out by tenors.
Janinah Burnett's is an ideal Micaëla. Her soprano is light, sweet and her technique in "Je dis que rien ne m'épouvante" is accomplished.
Cameron Schutza (Remendado), Kevin Wetzel (Dancaïre/Moralès), Rebecca Sjöwall (Frasquita), and Stephanie Foley Davis (Mercédès) live up to the expectancies of the second act quintet "Nous avons en tête une affaire", as well as in the third act duet "Mêlons, coupons," while bass Peter Volpe receives a well deserved ovation for his Zuniga.

The Arizona Opera chorus contributes enthusiastically with disciplined finesse and a praiseworthy French enunciation.
Joël Revzen draws a rich and resonant playing from Arizona Opera Orchestra. Some idiosyncratic tempi and occasional lack of sparkle do not hinder the dramatic tension, nor jeopardize the rich orchestral coloring of the score.

Christian Dalzon



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