Skylark Opera has been on a bit of a hiatus, but it is back with "The Tragedy of Carmen." It is a condensed version of the Seville set French Opera, clocking in at 90 minutes and sung in English. Along with cuts in time, the cast is also smaller, 6 actors/singers bring this work to life along with a 3 person orchestra. This paired down telling is very intimate with the action happening right in front of the audience. Although some plot points have been altered, the character relationships and the general plot arch of "The Tragedy of Carmen" and Carmen's relationship with Don Jose remains the same.
For those who may not be familiar with the Opera, or who need a refresher, I have put together an image that may help with the character relationships and general plot.
The mood of the night and the show was set wonderfully and started as soon as I took my seat. Besides the champagne that was being offered, women in black dresses walked in circles around the audience, creating a sense of tension for anyone paying attention. These women later danced a prelude to the show which was followed by a recording of a song in Spanish which from what I understood with my intermediate knowledge of the language described the main character of the show that was about to unfold.
The show unfolds on a set that is bare with the exception for 2 benches. Unlike a typical theatrical setup the audience sits on opposite sides of the stage area. It felt in someways like a runway or an alley. Although the space did not lead to great sight lines at all times, I felt with the music I was never lost in the story even if I couldn't see everything that was going on.
Just as this shortened version of Carmen maintains the plot arch and character relationships, it also hits all the musical themes and essential songs. And the cast that has been assembled to bring these songs to life is perfect. Tess Altiveros as Carmen was a standout, she has a strong and powerful voice and sung the mezzo soprano
role with all the attitude that it required. Laurent Kuehnl as Don Jose, Jennifer Baldwin Peden and Micaela, John Allen Nelson as Escamillo, Jennifer Eckes as Lillas Pastia and Kevin Klein as Zuniga round out the cast.
I was completely pulled into the production and the drama the whole way through, but I found myself more confused than surrounded by the story during the end scene, the culmination of "The Tragedy of Carmen." In order to avoid spoilers for those who don't yet know what happens in the end, I felt that the momentum of the end was interrupted, and questions about Escamillo were brought up when I felt my attention should have been on Don Jose and Carmen.
Besides this one complaint the ninety minutes does a fantastic job of getting across the story and the beautiful music. Almost like an abridged version of a long book, this production perfectly got the essence of Carmen out in half the time, and sung in English.
But for those who leave the show wanting a bit more. Wishing for more background on the motivations of the characters, or an extended plot I encourage you to look up Carmen. Wikipedia has a great plot summary, and youtube has some fantastic clips of productions.
But what you won't find on youtube is anything like the intimate production that Skylark Opera has going on the Midpointe Event Center now. I highly recommend it, whether you have never seen Opera before, or are a bit of an Opera nerd like me.
"The Tragedy of Carmen" runs until February 18th.
To end I want to link to an article on NPR from several years ago about the protagonist Carmen, how she uses sexuality as her own power and was in many ways was a feminist hero in an 1875 Opera. But at the same time, this power in many ways does end up being her downfall. Beyond enjoying the beautiful music, in this day seeing a story about this kind of character brings up many different and conflicting feelings. Perhaps someday I will write a separate blog post about this, but I don't think I am done processing yet and I don't know when I will be. So for now I will keep reading and thinking. And if you want to join me this article is a great place to start.