Sunday, August 14, 2011

The God Why Don't You Love Me Blues

Another operatic road trip! A day trip to Cooperstown with my constant opera-going companion and BFF BS. Really, those are his initials. I wouldn't presume to comment on them. We saw the August 13 matinee of Carmen at the Glimmerglass Festival. Having been there two weeks ago and reporting on some amazing shows that weekend, we expected a terrific Carmen.

We all know about Carmen. Soldier falls for gypsy girl who herself falls in and out of love with the regularity of an M60 bus. It doesn't end happily for anyone except the bullfighter. Then again, operas aren't often written about happy people.

Mr. Bizet's opera was first performed in 1875 at the Opéra Comique, and kept with the opera-comique tradition of spoken dialogue rather than sung recitative. The initial run in Paris was a failure, largely because it strayed from opéra-comique convention in many other ways, but in other cities where such conventions were not expected by the audience and critics, the opera was a great success. In the years since 1875 various composers have attempted to replace the spoken dialogue with recitative, and nowadays we commonly have Carmen performances both with and without spoken dialogue. Glimmerglass gave us the version with the spoken dialogue.

The time of the story is about 1820. The director of this show, Anne Bogart, has updated the action to what appears to be the 1920s. I usually don't care for updating opera stories. To me, far too often the stated intent of clarifying social and power relationships is not achieved, and attention--or inattention--to detail of the updated period is a distraction. In this case it wasn't the only distraction. The design suggests all the action takes place in a large waiting room. Three of the four acts are supposed to occur outdoors, but the walls and doors were still there in James Schuette's designs. Apparently piling up tables and chairs in a very studiedly haphazard fashion suggests a mountain top. Is it still the thing to do to show the bare back walls of the stage?

There was a lot to like in this show, however, and I don't want to sound too negative. Visually, I very much liked most of the costumes, although I wondered whether the smugglers were ragged enough.I liked much of the lighting, with the exception of the end-of-act lighting effects on the bare stage wall.

Ginger Costa-Jackson and Adam Diegel
Photo by Julia Cervantes, Glimmerglass Opera
Vocally, I liked Ginger Costa-Jacskon as Carmen. She is only 24, however, and this is her first Carmen. Previous roles in front of large audience are along the lines of Wowkle in Fanciulla del West and the Nancy T'Sang (First Secretary) in Nixon in China at the Met and Lola in Cavalleria Rusticana at La Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona. Ms Costa-Jackson has a beautiful, dark voice, and seems comfortable with the character. I'd like to see her fifth Carmen--I think she'll continue to grow and improve in the role. I think stronger direction would do her a world of good.

Carmen's lover--one of them--is the bullfighter Escamillo. He was sung by young baritone Michael Todd Simpson. To my ear, Mr. Simpson's voice, although appealing, was a little light for the role of Escamillo. Most of the roles listed in his bio are lyric baritone roles. I really can't say I liked the costumes he wore or Ms Bogart's blocking for his character.

Anya Matanovič played Micaela, the young girlfriend of Don Jose, Carmen's other lover in this story. Again, although Miss Matanovič is a very good singer, and she sang the role well, Micaela requires a fuller voice. Again, we needed stronger direction, for Micaela needs to be a stronger character than we saw.

Don José. I know many rising tenors who can do a great job with Don José, both vocally and dramatically, so I am unhappy when I see someone in a high profile production who is not equal to the demands of the role. Adam Diegel's singing and acting were inconsistent at best. I simply have the feeling that, although he has attained great career success already, he needs more training to become the singer I really think is waiting to emerge. And once again stronger direction was required.

Glimmerglass has a very good young artist program, and I have to say that, as with much of what I saw two weeks ago, the young artists in minor roles threatened to steal the show.  I would be truly remiss if I failed to mention each of the following young singers for their singing and acting:
Wes Mason as Morales
Aaron Sorensen as Zuniga
Lindsay Russell as Frasquita
Cynthia Hanna as Mercedes
Alex Lawrence as El Dancairo
Juan José de León as El Remendado

The chorus and dancers were choreographed, it seemed, within an inch of their lives, even when not dancing. But the crowd scenes still seemed a bit awkward.  I can't say the bullfighter vs. bull dance was a favorite with me. Neither can I say that the faux bull ring in the middle of the stage during Act IV, and the blocking around it, was anything but heavy handed.

I wish I could report something better about this production. I liked Ms Costa-Jackson, Ms Matanovič, and all the young artists. I wish that was enough.

Added 8/15: To sum up my experience at Glimmerglass these past few weekends:

  • Debs continues to be amazing
  • I'm pretty crazy about Frenacesca Zambello, too--hers were the best shows I saw. (A special feature about her in this here blog would thrill me to no end!)
  • I love the young artists at Glimmerglass. They all seem well prepared, well educated in singing and acting, and can hold the stage on their own. I'd predict a great future for all those I heard.
  • I think some of the directing choices I saw in the non-Francesca shows were missteps.
  •  I would gladly go again to see Glimmerglass's offerings next season, which include Mr. Lully's Armide and The Music Man with Dwayne Croft.

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