The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Despite overly traditional staging, the Madison Opera’s “Carmen” beguiled and bewitched through the outstanding singing

November 7, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Opera Guy attended Sunday’s sold-out performance of “Carmen” by the Madison Opera and filed the following review, with photos by James Gill:

By Larry Wells

When I learned that Madison Opera was going to produce Bizet‘s “Carmen,” I was not surprised. It is annually one of the most frequently performed operas internationally, and it is a surefire vehicle for filling seats. It is safe.

On the other hand, once one watches repeated performances of an old favorite, the appeal can diminish. One advantage of an opera is that novel approaches to the production can prevent a warhorse from becoming stale.

I would love to say that the approach both musically and dramatically to this production of “Carmen” broke new ground, but it did not. In fact, the production was as traditional as could be. (Below is the main set, rented from the Lyric Opera of Kansas City.)

I attended a performance of “Carmen” in Tucson a couple of years ago, and the conductor Keitaro Harada breathed new life into the familiar music through interesting tempi and finely nuanced dynamics.

Maestro John DeMain (below, in a photo  by Prasad) conducted the Madison Symphony Orchestra in a perfectly fine and occasionally uplifting manner, but there was little new to learn from his approach. The purely instrumental entr’actes shimmered, but during the rest of the opera the singing was at the forefront.

Maestro Harada (below), whom Madison should be actively courting, is currently conducting “Carmen” in Sofia, and the accompanying publicity clip in the YouTube video at the bottom (bear with the Bulgarian commentary) shows that the production is unconventional in its approach although it clearly is still “Carmen.” I would have enjoyed something other than the ultra-traditional staging and sets experienced here in Madison.

At times the production was so hackneyed and hokey that I chuckled to myself – ersatz flamenco dancing, the fluttering of fans, all of the cigarette factory girls with cigarettes dangling from their lips, unconvincing fight scenes, annoying children running across the stage, dreary costumes that hardly reminded me of Seville. And I could go on.

Yet “Carmen” has a way of drawing one in despite oneself. The music is marvelous, and the singing was uniformly excellent.

The four principals were luminous both in their solo pieces and ensembles. Cecelia Violetta López as Micaëla (below right) was lustrous in her two arias as well as in her duet with Sean Panikkar’s Don José (below left).

Panikkar started the performance off with little flair, but from the time he became besotted with Carmen toward the end of the first act he was on fire. He then maintained a high degree of passion and zest in his vocal performance.

Corey Crider (below right) was a wonderful Escamillo, singing his toréador role with great élan despite his unfortunate costumes.

And Aleks Romano (below) as Carmen made the most of her complex character. Her singing was luscious, and her acting – particularly her use of her expressive eyes – was terrific.

Likewise, the lesser roles – Thomas Forde as Zuniga, Benjamin Liupaogo as Remendado, Erik Earl Larson as Dancaïre, a radiant Anna Polum as Fransquita, and Megan Le Romero as Mercédès – were equally well sung. The ensemble work in the quintet at the end of Act II and in the card scene was outstanding.

The chorus (below) sounded terrific throughout, although the women’s costumes and the stage direction made the choristers appear ludicrous as times.

When all is said and done, “Carmen” still beguiled me by drawing me into its characters’ complex psychologies and motivations. Likewise, its music still bewitched me in much the same way as Carmen inexplicably bewitched hapless Don José (below).

But I seem to always wish for more – more compelling productions, more daring music making, more risk-taking.

I do look forward to this coming spring’s production of “Florencia en el Amazonas.” The recording is captivating, and the opera’s performances have pleased a wide variety of audiences by all accounts. And it is something new. Hallelujah!

Did you go to “Carmen”? 

What did you think?

The Ear wants to hear.

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Classical music: The Madison Symphony Orchestra’s organ concert on Tuesday night features two male singers in music from oratorios and operas

February 17, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

This coming week, the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) will present  organist Samuel Hutchison (below) and acclaimed singers Andrew Bidlack and Kyle Ketelsen performing as a trio in vocal and instrumental music from oratorios and operas.

Sam Hutchison with organ (c) JoeDeMaio

The concert is Tuesday night, Feb. 21, at 7:30 p.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center, 201 State Street.

Principal Organist and Curator for the Madison Symphony Orchestra Samuel Hutchison joins forces with two outstanding singers in the first half to perform a program of favorite arias and overtures from Handel’s Messiah, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, and Rossini’s Stabat Mater.

Opera will be the focus of the second half, featuring arias and selections from Bizet’s Carmen, Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin and Gounod’s Faust.

For the full program, go to: http://www.madisonsymphony.org/organopera

Featured by Opera News as one of their top 25 brilliant young artists, tenor Andrew Bidlack (below) — who is replacing David Portillo — makes his debut in Overture Hall following performances at The Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Welsh National Opera and London’s Covent Garden.

andrew-bidlack-vertical

Bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen (below, in a photo by Dario Acosta), who lives in nearby Sun Prairie, has sung with major opera companies throughout the world including The Metropolitan Opera, the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the State Opera of Berlin. He is praised for his vibrant stage presence and his distinctive vocalism.

In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear Kyle Ketelsen sing the role of Don Escamillo in a Barcelona, Spain, production of Bizet’s “Carmen.” He is singing the same role in the Metropolitan Opera’s current production of “Carmen.”

Kyle Ketelsen face shot 1 Dario Acosta

General Admission for each Overture Concert Organ performance is $20. Tickets can be purchased at madisonsymphony.org/organopera, (608) 258-4141 or the Overture Center Box Office.

Student Rush tickets can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street. Students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two $10 tickets.

This performance is sponsored by the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation. Support for all Overture Concert Organ programs is provided by the Diane Endres Ballweg Fund.

With a gift from Pleasant T. Rowland, the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) commissioned the Overture Concert Organ, which is the stunning backdrop of all MSO concerts.

Overture Concert Organ overview


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