The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Ear blogs live during ‘Carmen’s 1st intermission | November 7, 2009

By Jacob Stockinger

This is The Ear again.

An hour of “Carmen” sure goes by faster than a Mahler symphony.

It’s the first intermission right now. (There will be one more in this three-hour, four-act production of Bizet’s “Carmen.”)

We have seen the colorful depiction — red and yellow hues, underscoring the desire and lust and sex — of Seville, Spain, where the opera takes place in circa 1830. The audience applauded when the curtain rose and we saw the sumptuous set rented from the Utah Opera Company.  carmen_16

We have settled into the strongly physical staging by director Candace Evans, a Madison native making her local debut, which will help carry this love story from a simmer to a full boil.

We have met the gypsy woman Carmen (given a spellbinding vocal and dramatic portrayal by mezzo-soprano Katharine Goeldner, seen at right dancing near Don Jose (tenor Adam Diegel) in a rehearsal photo taken by James Gill for the Madison Opera.)

We have seen how torrid and seriously flirty she is — please overlook any gypsy stereotypes for the moment — exuding strong hints of danger as other women exude an exotic, irresistible perfume.

Does working in a tobacco factory suggest her earthy appetite and sensuality, her sin and even fate? It probably did back at its premiere in 1875 and it sure does these days.

Just as hanging around with the well played soldiers and guards does.

“Love is a rebellious bird” Carmen sings in the famous “Habanera,” a musical favorite that was performed to perfection and with torchy, catchy rhythms from Goeldner and the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Madison Opera Chorus under the baton of John DeMain, who earned loud applause. It’s a bona fide showstopper, that’s for sure, in an opera filled with so many familiar show-stopping arias and choruses.

Along with the flower that Carmen gives to Don Jose — Charles Baudelaire’s “flowers of evil” come immediately to mind — it’s an important moment, a justifiable musical highlight that sets the production’s tone and the listeners’ expectations.carmen_08

Tonight, you sense, both will be high, very high.

We have also met other major characters: the peasant girl Micaela (soprano Elizabeth Caballero, at right, with Don Jose in a another James Gill rehearsal photo) ), and Zuniga (baritone Harold Wilson). It is a strong, even cast that has been assembled. The singing is terrific and the acting so far seems convincing, not forced.

And the orchestra is playing sharp and tight but also lyrical, drawing lots of applause.

“They’re playing to the audience,” says John W. Barker, rightly citing the show-stopping stage business with the children in the Madison Youth Choirs.

It all looks so easy–but, as my favorite opera friend points out, it is not. Yet the whole point of virtuosity in anything is to make the difficult look easy.

In that sense, whether you look at the sets, costumes and lighting; listen to the singing and instrumental playing; or take caught up in the acting — this enjoyable production is thoroughly virtuosic.

It has juice.

But the warning chime is ringing.

Intermission is over.

It’s time to get back to the opera.

After all, when we left her, Carmen was on her way to escaping from going to prison while her co-plotter Don Jose has been arrested.

And we’ll hear the famous “Toreador Song” — sung by the bullfighter Escamillo (baritone Hyung Yun) who wants to steal away Carmen — awaits. Stealing is a unifying theme — be it goods or love.


Posted in Classical music

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