South Florida Classical Review » » The Miami Lyric Opera celebrates 20 years with a richly dramatic “Carmen”
The Miami Lyric Opera celebrates its 20th anniversarye anniversary this season, and on Saturday night, the robust company took the stage at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center with Georges Bizet Carmen.
Bizet was convinced his opera was a failure after critical acclaim when it premiered in March 1875. CarmenPerhaps the libretto was too realistic in its depiction of popular life in Seville, perhaps too provocative in its musical exoticism, or perhaps too harsh in its refusal to reward virtue in the end.
What the libretto and music provide, however, is a tangible story of a strong, if sometimes manipulative, woman whose charms drive the men in her life mad. To take the deepest fall and ultimately take her life is Corporal Don José whose blinding love for Carmen can’t allow her to be with anyone else.
Bizet’s music flirts, soars and flirts like the characters in the story. Bizet died a few months after the premiere, unaware of the notoriety that his comical opera would win in the centuries to come.
MLO’s production featured a mix of young and more experienced singers. Soloists Philip Alongi as Don José and Francesca Aguado as Carmen shone in their roles with vocal prowess and stage presence. Their onstage chemistry was palpable and their musical dialogue was projected with a wonderful vocal blend.
The mezzo-soprano Aguado inhabited the character of Carmen with great ease from her first moments on stage with “Love is a rebellious bird”. His tone was dark and opulent, matching the seductive nature of the character. Aguado had an excellent understanding of Carmen’s temperamental nature, evident in her inflection of phrases and spin of ornate melodies. She did not hesitate to emphasize the lower and spoken part of her register, giving the performance more immediacy and intensity.
Tenor Alongi stood out throughout the performance. His assimilation of the emotional strain of the role laid the foundation for the character’s development. He was always precise with a sustained, powerful and rich tone. An engaging performer, Alongi drew audiences in with his falsetto voices as he convinced Carmen of his love and hooked them excitedly in the high, sustained notes. Its transparent, but sometimes desperate tone, recalls that of a tenor in the vein of Italian. verism. Alongi captured Don José’s inner struggle and provided a beautiful contrast of timbre, particularly in “The Flower You Thrown Me” (Act II) and the final scene.
In the roles of Micaëla and Escamillo were the soprano Nathalie Avila and the baritone Oscar Martinez. Avila’s tone was perhaps a little too forward for the sweet and naive Micaëla, but she showed good control of sentence nuance and believable characterization. Martinez, as a toreador, provided a solid stage presence, but his diction and melodic outline left much to be desired.
A well-prepared number was the smuggler quintet “We have a case in mind” from Act II, a moment in the plot where Carmen pushes Don José to choose between his love for her and his duty as a soldier. Aguado, joined by sopranos Elizabeth DiFronzo (Mercédès) and Samantha Riling-Lopez (Frasquita), tenor Rolando Valdez (Remendado) and baritone Gabriel Menendez (Dancaire) handled the fast passages and cheerful ensemble singing with conviction.
The MLO Orchestra, under the direction of long-time collaborator, conductor Jeffrey Eckstein, provided good support for the singers. Eckstein was deliberate in its conducting, though the orchestra repeated high-pitched entries and unclear articulation. Although enthusiastic, the chorus numbers often lacked quality and blend of tone, as well as timing.
A welcome addition to this production were two flamenco dancers Jose Junco and Cristina Masdueño, whose spotlighted numbers in the tavern and in front of the bullfighting ring provided a fresh and authentic vibe. They exuded liveliness and flair through the rhythmic inflections of castanets and heel steps. The well-matched duo reflected Carmen’s passionate but tortured relationships with her suitors.
The set design was a highlight of this sold-out performance with impressive sets by Stivanello/Somani and efficient lighting. The canvases, painted in great detail, created layers of Spanish architectural pieces with the mysterious mountain hideout from Act 3 adding dimensionality to the production.
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