BWW Review: CARMEN: A Triumphant Crown to a Decade of Impressive Opera
We enter the beautiful auditorium and are struck by a dark structure of rough beams-a balcony across the stage with stairs at either side. Plain gray panels surround the brooding set. It's as ominous as an ancient gallows. At Winter Opera we've become used to beautiful classical or romantic sets-castles, gardens and gorgeous sky-scapes. Here, for Carmen, designer Scott Loebl gives us something strikingly different in tone. It's more dramatic and it's perfectly suited to the tragedy at the heart of Carmen.
This production completes the company's tenth season, and it's a crowning glory.
The orchestra, under the direction of Darwin Aquino, gives the finest performance I've heard in any of the many productions I've seen at Winter Opera. With the opening phrases of the overture it simply bursts out of the gate. It snatches us up and carries us away like a robber bridegroom whisking his love up onto his galloping steed. The tempo is almost alarming. Such energy! Such excitement! Such precision!
As the overture proceeds we are treated to a simple but dramatic introduction to the characters and their relationships-all in pools of light amid the darkness of the stage. No singing, just movement, with stark lights from above. This is what used to be called a "dumb show"-a common feature of plays in the 16th century, used to foreshadow the story soon to be seen. (In Hamlet the players' presentation to Claudius is a memorable example.) Here in Carmen the movement is insightfully designed to employ the music meaningfully. The gleam of that white light on Carmen's pale bosom quickens every male pulse and instantly convinces us of this woman's gifts as a seductress.
And we are utterly and truly seduced by the vocal gifts of this Carmen. Benedetta Orsi has a quite breathtakingly beautiful voice, full and rich, with such easily accessed resources of power. The tightly but naturally controlled vibrato, the subtle textured timbre-like "tooth" on fine paper, the occasional little gliss or portamento into a pitch. These all beautifully support the strongly carnal nature of this woman. And she can act! She flirts and plays and menaces. She gives us a simply perfect "Habanera". All in all a glorious job! And she looks every inch a gypsy.
Miss Orsi is surrounded by other fine performances:
Jorge Pita Carreras, as Don José, displays a strong, velvety tenor voice. It's most expressive and flows seamlessly across his entire range. His "Flower Song" in Act 2, in which he finally professes his love for Carmen is superb.
The bullfighter, Escamillo, is sung by Neil Nelson, who's becoming quite a favorite to us here in St. Louis. He is so full of energy! In his "Toreador Song" he brings the bull-fight to wonderfully exciting life.