|Opera Philadelphia presents a spectacular, new Carmen
posted by Ralph Malachowski on May 2, 2018 10:30am | comments
At first glance, you may think, “Do we need an old chestnut like Carmen?” If it’s Opera Philadelphia’s new Carmen, then the answer is yes, yes, and yes!
As is the case with too many persons of genius, George Bizet (1838-1875) never became truly successful during his short lifetime. His most popular opera, Carmen, only became a success after the composer’s death. There is an old saying that opera companies always fall back on the ABC formula for crowd-pleasing attention. The ABC stands for Aida, la Boheme, and Carmen. This Carmen is no half-hearted revival of a tired war horse; rather, it is a vital, exciting new production with not one dull moment.
The success of this Carmen can be attributed to the creative team, conductor, soloists, chorus, and dancers. All of them created a memorable work of art. To begin, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Yves Abel would be the conductor. Memories from 1990 swirled around me as I recall the dynamic, young Yves Abel leading his newly-created Opera Francais de New York, which presented its operas at the Alliance Francais at Florence Gould Hall. Well, it is now 2018, and maestro Abel may be a bit older, but no less dynamic on the podium. From the overture, the audience quickly realized that this would be a keenly-realized performance. Maestro Abel’s mastery through years of conducting opera at many of the great opera houses was clearly evident in his sure handling of his orchestra. Carmen is a long opera (over three hours with two intermissions), which in lesser hands can seem interminable. This was not the case here. Everything, from the sets, to costumes, to movement was fresh and spot-on. The chorus exhibited vitality, the principals were astonishing, and the secondary characters were splendid.
I last saw Carmen at the Metropolitan Opera with Angela Gheorghiu, Waltraud Meier, Placido Domingo, and Sergei Leiferkus in the leading roles. I can honestly say that this cast, Kirsten MacKinnon, Daniela Mack, Evan LeRoy Johnson, and Adrian Timpau, were their equal. Indeed, when comparing the starry cast from 1996 to Opera Philadelphia’s 2018 cast, I would have to say this cast is more thrilling, more honest, and more theatrically compelling than any Carmen that New York’s Metropolitan Opera offered then or could offer now.
Daniela Mack was a sensational, believable Carmen. Evan LeRoy Johnson was an incredible Don Jose. He looked the part, from his youth and vitality, to his naivete with women and his embarrassment over being a mama’s boy. What director would dare to point up Jose’s cluelessness around women except for the sure hand of director Paul Curran who made Micaela’s kiss from a mother seem like anything but which prompted a hearty laugh throughout the house. Mr. LeRoy Johnson’s later disintegration brought chills to the skin as he thrillingly warned Carmen that his was a love that would never end. Kirsten MacKinnon’s Micaela was no limp daisy, as she dared to go to Seville unaccompanied, dealt with a platoon of woman-hungry soldiers, braved thieves, and fought for her man. Adrian Timpau was a wonderfully clueless, egotistic Escamillo.
Bravo, Opera Philadelphia, for bringing a stylish, engaging, and exciting Carmen to the Academy of Music.
Carmen is now at the Academy of Music, Philadelphia, with performances continuing on May 2, 4, and 6, 2018. For more information, visit www.operaphila.org