Posted by: operatheaterink | October 1, 2013

Review: ‘Carmen,’ Los Angeles Opera, Oct. 1, 2013

This ‘Carmen’ was ‘All in the Family’ with guests.

Review: ‘Carmen,’ Los Angeles Opera, Oct. 1, 2013

Milena Kitić (Carmen), Dwayne Croft (Escamillo) and cast.
Photo: Robert Millard


By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

I specifically went to see Los Angeles Opera’s “Carmen” at the Music Center on Sept. 28 because the Carmen, Milena Kitić, was mentioned to me in complimentary terms a few months ago by my book publicist. This was a one-night gig for Kitić since Patricia Bardon was cast for the run.

For me, it was an “All in the Family” — “Family Ties” kind of evening, which was kind of nice.

Ms. Kitić played LA Opera’s Carmen in 2004 when married to Milan Panić. Panić is/was an underwriter for this “Carmen” and is a vice-chairman of the LA Opera Board of Directors. They are both part of the Los Angeles Opera family, so as I sat in the audience, I wanted to like this Carmen, and I did.

I then discovered that some of my favorites have been or are members of LA Opera’s Young Artist Program, and the resident conductor and chorus master, Grant Gershon, was holding the baton.

Because I am a supporter of new talent, I will begin with soprano Amanda Woodbury who portrayed Micaëla for the evening. Both her warm focused voice and presence carried past the orchestra pit far into the audience. She captured the essence of Micaëla — the girl Don José’s mother wanted him to marry, and should have.

The word, “warm” also describes the quality of Cassandra Zoé Velasco’s mezzo as Mercédès. She too is a member of the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program. As I watched her sitting next to Hae Ji Chang, who played Frasquita, I kept thinking, “Now there is a Carmen in the making.” Both her voice and face forced my eyes in her direction. Chang, also a member of the program, had an energy about her that was beaming.

Trying too hard to be a mature bass, Valentin Anikin (Zuniga) showed promise as a bass who should allow that bass to mature naturally. Museop Kim (El Dancaïro) and Daniel Armstrong (Moralès) added solid support.

As for the principals, again “warm” is the adjective that describes the singing and my response to the production. I don’t know if it was the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion acoustics that were wanting or if it was me. The singers and orchestra didn’t elicit a feeling of excitement from me, but I was grateful to hear singers who looked appealing, sounded technically-equipped, and were solid as actors.

Mezzo-soprano Milena Kitić was an alluring, crafty Carmen who managed to be charming as well. Her “habanera” and “seguidilla” were seductive. Her voice had swelling highs that flowed seamlessly from her chocolaty lows, and she danced like a Broadway trooper, but with far superior vocality. I will date myself here, but she reminded me of a refined Charo. If you don’t know who Charo is, google her: a figurative Carmen if there ever was one, but this is Opéra Comique, isn’t it? Oh, well, “Carmen” takes place in Spain.

Tenor Brandon Jovanovich’s Don José was tepid. At first, I thought I could understand why Carmen would throw him away for the matador, Escamillo, but then Dwayne Croft’s Escamillo seemed far too old. Finally at the end, I decided that Carmen must have had a thing for more mature men. That must have been it.

But then Jovanovich surprised me with his “La fleur que tu m’avais jetée.” It was top-knotch, well sung and passionate. But the rest of his performance was just plain tepid. And before he stabbed Carmen, he appeared weak. I’d rather see charismatic and desperate than defeated. But then this Carmen was manipulating Don José’s mind.

As for Escamillo, Dwayne Croft just wasn’t Escamillo — that was the problem. Yes, he has an excellent voice and uses it well. However, when he made his entrance with an ill-fitting cummerbund, then displayed stilted movement that was hardly charismatic during his “Toreador Song,” I decided that I would have liked to have seen the regular Escamillo for the run: Ildebrando D’Arcangelo. But Croft’s demeanor improved later on when he was no longer in that cummerbund, and Carmen seemed to appreciate his mature allure.

I have read that some critics think this revival production with elderly sets should be put to rest. I disagree. Although not Bizet’s idea of 1820’s Seville but a more upscale Miramar, Havana — I enjoyed the peach hues and Mediterranean appearance at the beginning and end, with the contrasting middle acts with stone buildings and earthy rocks. There was nothing tired-looking about these sets. Likewise, the move from peach costumes to deeper reds and purples followed the tone of the story.

The orchestra began at a swift pace but the sound seemed to lack the richness that my ears often craved. Toward the end, the sound was more bountiful.

Conductor Grant Gershon has a history of choral direction which is reflected in his orchestral conducting with chorus for opera. His direction was physically robust and very visual for the onstage singers, including the young Los Angeles Children’s Chorus, whose members, thanks to Anne Tomlinson’s fine direction, thrived from the excitement of being onstage with such a supportive cast. And, yes, the dancers played their roles well, especially the male soloist.

Much of “Carmen” on Sept. 28 was a family affair with guests. It was all very nice. I just wanted some of the characters to cut loose, stop being so tidy, and let me see their passion.

Libretto: Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy. Based on a novel by Prosper Mérimée.
Revival of a production from the Teatro Real, Madrid.
Conductor/Chorus Master: Grant Gershon
Original Production: Emilio Sagi
Director: Trevore Ross
Set Designer: Gerardo Trotti
Costume Designer: Jesús del Pozo
Lighting Designer: Guido Levi
Original Choreographer: Nuria Castejón
Associate Choreographer: Briseyda Zárate Fernández

Review: ‘Carmen,’ Los Angeles Opera, Oct. 1, 2013

Amanda Woodbury as Micaëla.
Photo: Robert Millard