Review: CARMEN at Union Avenue Opera

Union Avenue Opera's 30th year opens with "Carmen".

By: Jul. 08, 2024
Review: CARMEN at Union Avenue Opera
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Review: CARMEN at Union Avenue Opera

Saint Louis’ Union Avenue Opera is celebrating the start of it’s thirtieth year with a superb production of Bizet’s Carmen!  (Thirty years—that’s twenty-nine seasons.  Like everyone else Union Avenue was “dark” in 2020.)  Thirty years of ever-increasing excellence in this most challenging of musical arts.  Housed in the nave of the Union Avenue Christian Church, this company offers the most intimate opera experience you’re likely to find anywhere. 

That wonderful old favorite, Carmen, springs to musical life under the baton of founder and artistic director Scott Schoonover.  As if in urgent need to dive into the action, Bizet gives us not an “overture”, but a briefer “prelude”.  It’s stirring indeed, with little sips of the various melodies to come.

The cast is packed with top-flight talent;  there simply is not a weak-link anywhere. 

The role of Carmen is sung by Elise Quagliata.  She triumphs in it!  A generously passionate actress, she captures this voracious seductress, this siren, this femme fatale.  Ms. Quagliata has appeared previously on the Union Avenue stage as two nuns—Sr. Helen in Dead Man Walking (2011) and the timid and conscience-torn Sr. James in Doubt (2016).  “And now” (as they say) “for something completely different!”  Conscience begone!  Now she is CARMEN!  And a fiery, vivacious, ruthless Carmen she is indeed.  Her voice, lithe and articulate, is so expressive of emotions.  It’s full of a variety of timbres.  It is fond of those high notes, where it is strong and clear—but on the low ones it can be brassy and threatening.  It’s thrilling.  In her habanera she truly sings a spell.

She’s also a dancer through and through.  Her carriage, the fluent flourishes of her hands and arms in those gypsy dances, the romance told by her beautiful bare shoulders.  And those castanets!  Each click is a little exclamation point.  As if singing weren’t enough Ms. Quagliata is also choreographer for the show.

But this story is really about Don José.  He is the one whose soul is at risk.  He is the one who sacrifices his military career—indeed his life—for his infatuation with Carmen.  Tenor Brendan Tuohy brings a deeply beautiful voice to the role.  Pure and true and impeccably smooth from his lowest note to his very highest.  His first duet with Micaёla, Don José’s fiancéé, (“Parle-moi de ma mère”) is brimming with tender love.Review: CARMEN at Union Avenue Opera

Micaёla, an innocent country-girl, is usually played as a saintly, timid thing “with sunshine in her heart”.  But Meroё Khalia Adeeb brings a much richer life to this girl.  She makes her bright, smart, lively, with even sparks of fire.  She’s brave!  And she has an astonishing voice.  We often see singers physically striving for those high notes, but Ms. Adeeb makes all the lyrics seem like natural conversation.  Such vocal confidence!  All those high notes are already there inside her and without even a lift of chin she effortlessly sets them free.  It’s a beautiful, towering, shining voice filled with sweetness.

In ActReview: CARMEN at Union Avenue Opera 2 Escamillo bursts upon the scene.  Joel Balzun sings this rock-star bull-fighter, and he well deserves the praises of the crowd.  His wonderful vocal power makes a triumph of the “Toreador Song”. 

St. Louis favorite Jacob Lassetter sings Zuniga, José’s superior officer.  He’s always a strikingly strong figure on stage—with a rich baritone voice.  And Zuniga, too, is drawn to Carmen.

Three tall, strong, handsome men competing for the favors of this lady!  It’s quite dramatic.

Supporting roles are similarly splendid.  Joel Rogier as Corporal Morales, Gina Galati and Holly Janz as Carmen’s spirited friends Frasquita and Mercédès, and Xavier Joseph and Mark Schapman as the merry smugglers all add color and excitement to the show.

The chorus of children is a delight.  Their marching is not quite military precision, but their singing is the very essence of precision—such synchrony and articulation.  Kudos to chorus master Alice Nelson. 

Stage director Mark Freiman once again displays his great gift;  he handles this large cast beautifully.

Resident designers Patrick Huber (sets and lighting) and Teresa Doggett (costumes) do their usual wonders, achieving beauty, authenticity and variety.

Conductor Scott Schoonover draws a flawless performance from his orchestra, and maintains a lovely balance with the singers throughout.

Bizet’s Carmen, at Union Avenue Opera, is sung in the original French, with English super-titles.  It continues through July 13.


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