BWW Review: CARMEN - Austin Opera's Stunning Masterpiece
Austin Opera continues its tradition of masterfully recreating classic operas with Bizet's CARMEN currently playing at The Long Center.
Premiering in 1875, the French opera set in Spain, has shocked and thrilled audiences worldwide in the intervening century. Composer Bizet died suddenly just after the debut, unaware that he would receive universal acclaim for what many call the most famous opera ever written. The soaring music was composed by Bizet, while the libretto was written by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy based on a novella by Prosper Mérimée. The story opens on a dusty street in Seville where a dragoon guard station sits next to a tobacco factory. It's when the girls who work at the factory take their break on the street that the saga begins. Don Josè (Chad Shelton), a corporal is approached by a girl from his village, Micaëla (Heather Phillips) bearing news from home and a letter from his mother but flees before he can read it. The whistle blows at the factory and Carmen (Sandra Piques Eddy) emerges to sing her iconic song Habanera, about the elusive nature of her love. Don José ignores her until she throws a flower in his direction. Micaëla returns to give his mother's letter to José, his parent implores him to leave the army and return home to marry Micaëla. He is torn between his sense of duty to his family and honoring his pledge to the military. Carmen returns and is involved in a knife fight with a rival, when Don José must arrest her. It's at this point that he falls hopelessly in love with her and seals his fate as well as hers.
Stage director, Michael Cavanagh has updated the 19th century opera to the 1980's with costuming and disco dance moves. The update works, but I found myself missing the sweeping movement of wider skirts, the sparkling, ornate matador costume and the pageantry of the more formal military coats. The entire production is a feast for the senses nonetheless. From Erhard Rom's set design to Greg Easley's choreography, every moment is set for maximum effect. The cast is stellar in every way, including the charming children's chorus, but there are a few standouts worthy of mention. Heather Phillips Micaëla is beautiful and heartbreaking, she embodies unrequited love wonderfully. Sandra Piques Eddy is utterly brilliant as the passionate gypsy heroine. Her voice has the depth to shake your soul and make you love her every moment on stage. Chad Shelton as Don José is excellent in an unlikeable role. His character makes all the wrong decisions and chooses violence as a solution, but Shelton puts his all behind the doomed corporal, leading the story to its ultimate tragic conclusion. However it's Norman Garrett as Escamillo, the Toreador who stole my heart. He is exudes a commanding presence that makes his performance magnetic. The orchestra under Conductor Richard Buckley is world class, every note is perfection. Austin Opera's productions are always a rare treat and CARMEN is no different.
If you have the opportunity during its all too short run to see Austin Opera's CARMEN, do yourself a favor and go. You'll be very glad you did.
Austin Opera at The Long Center
November 11, 16, 19
Running Time: 3 hours with one 25 minute intermission