Carmen at Lyric: Not so Hot but Heavy

Lyric's current production of the Bizet's über-Classic Carmen is straightforward and to the point but with an underwhelming amount of charisma and chemistry.  [See it now through October 29, then again (new cast) in March.]
Bizet's classic opera proves itself timeless (unlike certain other operas this season), surrounding and connecting the instantly recognizable tunes with unassumingly beautiful music: nothing mundane, no excess.  And while Macbeth suffered the fate of a dramatic-turned-comic, Carmen is rather a comic-turned-dramatic: its more serious music and the tragic ending is a mix that feels more realistic.  [Even Nietzsche said it "displaced all the fog of the Wagnerian ideal."]
Lyric's production is a panoply of succulent voices, though it takes more than a pretty voice or two to make an opera work.  Unfortunately, selling the story to the audience comes up a bit short.
Most noticeably, there's no amorous effusions.  Carmen (last-minute fill-in Katharine Goeldner) is underplayed and, though exuding confidence and élan, does not muster up much sensuality.  She's flirty, but more like an older aunt, less like a lover.  I thought to myself: "you're still living the gypsy lifestyle? Isn't it about time you grow up and buy a condo?"  [but perhaps that was directed more at myself...]
Yonghoon Lee (Don José) doesn't meet her halfway, so the murderous passions at the end erupt as if from a long-dormant volcano.  Though I didn't love presence on the stage--barely believable as a Mediterranean lover--I enjoyed hearing him.  While his body was stiff and actions contrived, his voice emerged from his awkwardly gaping mouth like Cain and Ebel from a firehose--a compliment, I assure you.  HIs performance made Don José into a geeky mamma's boy, in the end falling victim more to his own naiveté than his hot-headed nature.
[I think future performances would be better with a few shots of Cuarenta y tres between the two leads before/during the show.]
If the leads were a couple of boobs, the supporting cast was a diamond-in-the-rough-studded brassiere.  Kyle Ketelsen's Escamillo and Elaine Alvarez's Micaëla were nearly in danger of upstaging the leads; whether it was Ketelsen's swaggering chutzpah or Alvarez's virginal tenderness, both appeared more fully formed and human than the two ill-fated lovers.  Ketelsen was, as usual, fun to watch and a delight to hear; Alvarez's voice, a new one to me, gushed with expression and lyricism.
The performance I saw was a Wednesday matinée, so I finally got to see who goes to matinées in the middle of the workweek: mostly retired people.  So, if the audience reaction was off-puttingly tepid, this is, mayhap, the reason.  Still, Mr. Lee got heaps of bravos at the final curtain call, probably an enthusiastic hoot or holler from just about everyone who didn't make a mad dash to the exit at the orchestra's final notes.
Final Notes:
Harry Silverstein's direction made for a bone-chilling ending.  I was reminded that this is (in addition to Breast Cancer Awareness Month) also Domestic Violence Awareness Month and thought of the unnecessary murders that have happened recently--specifically, the lacrosse player who killed his ex-girlfriend.  Perhaps we could use the tragedy on stage to remember the tragedy happening ever day; perhaps at the end, volunteers could collect donations for domestic violence shelters.  Breast cancer seems to get all the attention in October--perhaps because it's curable.  Maybe domestic violence, like poverty, is deeply embedded in the culture, but culture can and does change--but only little by little over decades and decades.
Recommendedish: Great music but don't bother splurging on expensive seats
Want a second opinion?  Try Andrew Patner.  See if I care.

Filed under: lyric, review

Tags: carmen, chicago, opera

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