Carmen: Perfect Beginning to a New Concert Year

  • 09/26/2013
  • Reporters Desk

By John Farrell, Curtain Call Writer

Carmen was a crowd-pleaser when it opened the Los Angeles Opera’s 2013-2014 season on Sept. 21.

Maestro Placido Domingo, perhaps a little too old for the youthful Don Jose, led the orchestra from the pit (and got fabulous applause before every act). A new Carmen, Patricia Bardon, sang and danced her way though the opera, Don Jose was the handsome Brandon Jovanovich and Escamillo the refreshingly carefree toreador was Ildebrando D’Arcangelo.

The audience loved the sets and the gaily dressed chorus, and the swarm of children. They loved the flamenco dancing, the surprising (to some) transformation of a very tall soprano into an equally tall tenor. They were there for pleasure and loved every minute of the three-and-one-half hour work.

But if they were in the majority, there was a minority opinion as well. Domingo conducted with an ear for the rhythm and the “Spanish” feeling of the music, but that music is actually French (the opera is by Georges Bizet) and should have been handled with more delicacy and finesse. The sets are very long in the tooth, having been used twice before by the Los Angeles Opera (they originated in the Teatro Real in Madrid). And, they weren’t all that exciting those other times, either. Los Angeles Opera decided to give them one more use: no one really cares about making Carmen more than a spectacular for those who otherwise might not come to the opera at all.

It was a spectacle, all right, from the half-stage reserved for the flamenco number in the first act to the hills where the smugglers meet in the third act. Spectacular and often crowded with chorus members until the last moments of the final act, when Jose and Carmen are alone as she refuses him and he kills her. That aloneness makes a nice contrast with all the crowded scenes before, but it’s not enough to excuse the huge and unwieldy sets that went before.

Those sets don’t do much to project the voices, either, flat and wide and huge, and from the 19th row of the orchestra it was often hard to hear the principles. The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion is know for its less-than perfect acoustics and those acoustics were on display Saturday evening.

Bardon was delightfully sexy and very much in charge of her life, as Carmen, and sang with a richness and never-hidden passion. She knew what she wanted and took it. Jovanovich’s Jose was hampered by his costume: he wore a white coat over black pants and looked like a refugee from some 30s film comedy. He fell for Carmen and started his decline into thievery and murder like any tenor would.

D’Arcangelo’s Escamillo was a real star turn: he sang his “Toreador” song with brilliance and panache, and was elegant when he appeared in the last act in his suit of lights for the (off-stage) bullfight.

The highlight of the evening was the Los Angeles Opera debut of Pretty Yende as Micaela. A winner of the Operalia in 2010 she has already been heard at La Scala and at the Metropolitan Opera, and she managed, by the force of her voice, to overcome the house’s acoustical problems. Yende sang beautifully and made you believe that someone cared for Don Jose.

Trevor Ross directed the production, but it seemed like he didn’t have time to make sure the crowds were in the right place. There were other problems, like the lengthy building of the final sets and a curtain that didn’t quite know when to descend.

But, as noted, the audience loved it all, and it was for most opera-goers a perfect beginning to the new concert year. Maybe next time we see Carmen (and we will, we will) it will have a fresh look.

Tickets are $345 to $19, with limited availability. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 28, Oct.1 and 4, and at 2 p.m. Sept. 29 and Oct. 6.

Venue: Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Location: 135. N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles


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