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Conventionally Carmen

Nov. 1, 2012
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Bizet’s Carmen has such a surefire story and score that any performance is almost guaranteed to impact an audience. It was the composer’s music that carried an unexciting and sometimes dull rendition at Florentine Opera last weekend. This production was so conventional that it was downright old-fashioned, in the worst sense.

The traditional set design, by Franco Colavecchia and originally for Chautauqua Opera, was serviceable but hardly imaginative. Director Dean Anthony seemed to have no idea what to do with chorus scenes, which were static and uninteresting. His direction of the principals showed little insight into the psychology of the characters.

Audrey Babcock was a physically alluring Carmen, particularly in the first two acts. She is certainly a competent Carmen vocally, although I found the color of her voice, with its rather exaggerated vibrato, not a fit-like-a-glove match for the role. Noah Stewart shows promise as Don José, with a sizable voice of unusual timbre. In his best singing, such as the great duet of the final act, his voice was free and rich. His singing was not always consistent, however. Perhaps he will grow into the part. As an actor his psychotic ticks before Don José murders Carmen were not convincing.

It was evident in the first line of the “Torreador Song” that Aaron St. Clair Nicholson was miscast as Escamillo, his lyric baritone drowning in the orchestration as his voice descended into a lower range. He would be better suited to Mozart baritone roles; Escamillo is best sung by a bass or bass-baritone. He lacked the movie star glamour this star bullfighter needs. As Micaela, Rena Harms sang with sometimes lovely sounds, but without steadiness. The highest notes tended to shrillness.

The choral tone was not what could be called blended and disciplined. Conductor Joseph Rescigno seemed to be head-down barreling through the score, with little nuance. The good playing of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra ensured a certain standard of performance that would otherwise be elusive.


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