“Powerful, Raw & Visceral” – OperaDelaware’s Sultry “Carmen” Hits A Nerve…and Is a Hit


This post appears courtesy of the Delaware Arts INfo Blog – view the original post here.  

OperaDelaware’s production of La Tragedie de Carmen is opera at its best: powerful, raw and visceral. Peter Brook et al. have crafted a stripped down version of Bizet’s classic that focuses on the fatal relationships between the gypsy, the soldier, the village girl and the bullfighter.

We all know the story: Carmen (Audrey Babcock) seduces the naïve soldier Don Jose (Alok Kumar) who is being pursued by the innocent Micaela (Victoria Cannizzo). Tragedy strikes when Carmen liases with the bullfighter Escamillo (Michael Mayes). The characters struggle with fate, love, infidelity and jealousy — and in true operatic fashion, most meet their fate by the time the curtain falls.

The opera is sung in French with English translations above the stage to help the audience follow the action.

The 1981 adaptation retains all of the musical treasures — albeit reordered — of the 1875 original: Carmen’s Habanera and Seguidilla, Don Jose’s Flower Song and Escamillo’s swaggering Toreador Song.

But gone are the cigarette girls, the children’s chorus and the other grand trappings of Bizet’s four-act Carmen. Brook’s hybrid — is it an opera? a play with music? — cuts Bizet’s work in half to about 80 minutes, delving into the visceral realism of Merimee’s novel.

The production’s stage design is equally economic: simple sets, lighting and costumes evoke the world of Carmen without distracting from the best part of the production: the singing.

Cannizzo, a soprano, sings with all the desperation and urgency one would expect of a lovesick innocent yet she never fails to fill the theatre with her lush, powerful voice. Too bad we only get to hear her at the beginning and end of Brook’s version.

Babcock, a mezzo-soprano making her OperaDelaware debut, possesses a voice that grabs you and compels you listen. Her voice suits Carmen perfectly; it is fiery, rich and sultry in a most convincing way.

Tenor Kumar sings as if his heart is breaking, evoking sympathy for his dupe of a character. Maybe he’s not as innocent as he seems, but he’s certainly no match for the morally depraved Carmen.

Mayes, also making his OperaDelaware debut, uses his deep, dominating baritone to supply Escamillo with enough sex appeal to balance Babcock’s seductive performance. And Babcock does deliver one sexy performance.

Her stage presence and movements are devilishly defiant, lighting up cigarettes only to blow smoke into the face of her rivals. She shamelessly flirts, only to discard a love interest when another strikes her fancy — even though she has a husband conveniently tucked away. And she is often seen sitting with her legs spread apart, her dress draping between them to maintain some sense of propriety. Now, all this is tame by today’s standards, but in the 19th Century, it was truly shocking.

Feminists may have latched onto Carmen as the epitome of a strong, sexually liberated woman, but Bizet makes it clear: sleep around and you pay the ultimate price. Because of its brevity, accessible music and age-old plot of fate, love and jealousy, La Tragedie de Carmen gives the uninitiated a great introduction to the world of opera. For veteran opera goers, it offers a fresh look at a classic.