Stellar but not perfect

By Cory Vo

It must be difficult for visitors to associate Calgary with its "Cow
Town" nickname if they happened to be at the opening night of Carmen
on Saturday, Mar. 22.

This is the third production in the 27th season of the Calgary Opera.
The opening night, with its natural hype, was further propelled by the enthusiasm
of a solid crowd. Carmen is an opéra comique composed by Georges
Bizet, though few know that it is based primarily on a novella of the same
title by the French author Prosper Mérimée. Perhaps one of
the most successful operas of all time, Carmen, after numerous renditions
and adaptations, is still engaging. Once the familiar tunes are weaving
through the auditorium, we can’t help but feel like singing along-well,
more likely a quiet hum.

Carmen (Canadian mezzo soprano Marianne Bindig) is an irresistibly beautiful
gypsy, whose romantic beats quickly oscillate. Carmen plays a dominant yet
vulnerable role in her passion game. She lures young José (American
tenor William Joyner), a Spanish soldier, into the carefree life of the
gypsies, then quickly finds him uninteresting. Carmen then clings to Escamillo
(American bass baritone Bradley Garvin) for love. Her unsettled relationships
result in a deadly end.

My impression was that the set is bare and too abstract. Unlike some
productions which consistently employ modern sets and costumes, the contour
of the plain, modern backdrop seems awkward in relation to authentic costumes
of Seville in the 1800s. I did however, really enjoy the lighting effects
and the manipulation of shadows and silhouettes made possible by this insipid
background. Admittedly, this background also proves versatile in other ways.
In terms of time, it is highly economical and allows smooth, uninterrupted
scene changes.

The singers successfully manifest the emotions evident in the operatic
text. Like many renowned opera composers, Bizet has the ability to construct
a specific tone in each character, tones that were performed superbly by
talented individuals. Among these, stood out Bindig and Monica Whicher
(Micaela). Their powerful sopranos filled the whole auditorium with music,
although the audio could be amplified a bit more. Perhaps the sound team
tried to maintain as much fidelity in these golden voices as possible.
However, a compromise would be necessary to obtain a warm and expressive
ambiance. Music was beautifully performed by the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra,
and conducted by Tyrone Paterson, recently
appointed General Director of Opera Lyra.

A key to Carmen’s popularity must be the depiction of love and realism-a
subject matter which was intensely favoured during the Romantic period.
Calgary Opera’s version of

Carmen certainly employs some elements of realism, like snow fluffng
down on the stage, and Carmen’s highly graphic death at the end.

The event was a major success. This is my first visit to a Calgary Opera
production,and I see room for improvement, but more importantly, I see
the artists’ devotion and the highly satisfied audience. Tickets are going
fast at Ticketmaster, if you would like to catch the last two last performances.

The show starts sharply at 8 p.m. after an informal chat. This is an
effort to help the audience to "gain a better understanding of Carmen
through insight into the music and plot." There will be a pre-show
chat 45 minutes prior to each performance: Mar. 26 at 8 p.m., and a matinee show Sun., Mar. 28 at 2 p.m. In fact, you can enjoy the whole
Sunday by going to the "Morning Glory Fiesta." This is a combination
of a Sunday brunch, which caters champagne and Spanish cuisine, and the
matinee show, as well as door prizes, musical interludes and the pre-show
chat. Tickets are $45 and brunch starts at 11:30 a.m.

Leave a comment