Understated - yet intense
The Alice Busch Theater
07/02/2011 - and July 9, 11, 15, 19, 23, 25, 31, and August 5, 8, 13*, 20, 23, 2011
Georges Bizet: Carmen
Ginger Costa-Jackson (Carmen), Adam Diegel (Don Jose), Anya Matanovic (Micaëla), Keith Miller/Michael Todd Simpson* (Escamillo), Aaron Sorensen (Zuniga), Wes Mason (Morales), Lindsay Russell (Frasquita), Cynthia Hanna (Mercedes), Alex Lawrence (El Dancaïro), Juan José De León (El Remendado), Peter Macklin (Lillas Pastia), Neal Ferreira (A Guide)
Anne Bogart (Director), James Schuette (Sets and Costumes), Barney O'Hanlon (Choreographer), Robert Wierzel (Lighting)
The Glimmerglass Festival Orchestra and Chorus, Bonnie Koestner (Chorus Master), David Angus*/Zachary Schwartzman (Conductor)
G. Costa-Jackson & A. Diegel (© Julieta Cervantes)
Every year Glimmerglass performs a work from the core repertory and this year it was Carmen. (The company cannot be accused of over-exploiting this work - its only other appearance here was back in 1984, before the Alice Busch Theater was built.)
At first sight James Schuette’s stark boxy set seemed disappointingly mingy but quite quickly its claustrophobic effect could be seen to support the menace that permeated Anne Bogart’s stage direction, with the guardsmen’s predatory attitude toward any passing woman. (In 2008 Ms Bogart accomplished a successful production of I Capuletti e i Montecchi in a similarly modest setting.)
Another feature of the set is that it was narrower than the proscenium, giving the audience glimpses of performers before they enter the action, such as when we saw the tormented Don Jose pacing around before the final climactic scene. The only scene where this minimalist approach fell short was in the third act which is supposed to be a mountain pass where Carmen’s smuggler friends carry their contraband. All we could see at the back of the stage was...the back of the stage, with a few chairs scattered about. I’m afraid it looked as if part of the set fell off the delivery truck.
For Ginger Costa-Jackson the production marked not only her role debut but her first lead role in a professional production - and it is nice to report that it was a success. She is just 24 and looks it, which is perfectly in keeping with the character’s “live fast, die young” attitude. It will be interesting to see how she makes her way amidst all the other Carmens out there.
Adam Diegel (last year he was Cavarodossi at Glimmerglass) again shows off his strong, ringing tenor voice, although the high exposed note at the climax of his big aria “La fleur que to m’avais jetée” wasn’t quite on target (these things happen - hopefully not often). In the wrong hands Don Jose can come across as a passive lump, especially in a production set in the mundane 20th century; Mr. Diegel maintains a good level of dramatic tension throughout.
Also displaying a strong, declarative voice was the Escamillo, Michael Todd Simpson (Keith Miller sang only the opening night). Another benefit: he is very tall.
The fourth main role, Micaëla, was performed by Anya Matanovic. Her voice carried well in the Alice Busch Theater, although at moments she seemed to be trying to put a rather hard edge on it. The smaller roles were performed with panache by members of the festival’s Young Artists Program.
Little seems to be made of the fact that this is David Angus’s last season as Music Director at Glimmerglass. He has done a lot of good work with the festival. His approach to Carmen was vigorous without resorting to the overly fast tempi that so often afflicts the work, notably in the marvelous Act II quintet.
I’ve seen other plain productions of Carmen that worked as well as this one (e.g., at Berlin’s Komische Oper). One doesn’t need lavish panoply to deliver the tense drama created by Bizet and his librettists.