By Ed Kliszus
Carmen presented by MasterVoices under the leadership of the nonpareil artistic director Ted Sperling honored the genius of George Bizet in this startling, blazing operatic masterpiece. This glittering performance of Carmen possessed all we needed to pump the adrenalin and move the most jaded heart.
The staging was splendid in the sumptuous Rose Hall: choristers were set in the back of the stage on three levels, the orchestra was set at the stage rear, and the cast performed in front of the orchestra. The result was a magnificent 19th-century multi-media production with sparkling orchestral music, choric beauty, fabulous operatic soloists, duets, ravishing choral ensembles, drama, dance, stunning costuming, and a kaleidoscope of colors and chiaroscuro lighting. It represented a complete parity of music and drama.
Sperling ensured we did not miss a word by displaying subtitles high above the stage for spoken and sung words. Respecting Bizet’s authentic vision of Carmen, Sperling chose its original conception by preserving spoken parts, which, after Bizet’s death at age 37, were transformed into recitatives by Ernest Guiraud for the Viennese premiere.
Of this work of passion, power, and life, Johannes Brahms is reported to have said he would travel to the ends of the world to embrace the composer of Carmen. Richard Wagner noted, “Here, thank God, at last for a change is somebody with ideas in his head.” High praise indeed, and fitting after viewing tonight’s performance.
With the production’s delights of flamenco dancing, passionate arias, magnificent costuming, staging, lighting, soaring melodies, and powerful drama, we ultimately gasp in awe at the power of Bizet’s Fate theme, akin to the tragedy of the last act in Mozart’s Don Giovanni with its piercing melancholy. Carmen’s impact is profound, in part due to Bizet’s launching of the verismo school, where contemporary characters live true to life. And despite incipient impressions of a leering, fickle, coquettish character, our heroine Carmen remains loyal to herself, and one wonders if, indeed, she holds contempt for most men and humanity.
The lyrical mezzo-soprano Ginger Costa-Jackson as the soubrette Carmen commanded the stage throughout the evening. All eyes followed her as she deftly manipulated a nearly endless coterie of helpless, love-struck, adoring suitors. Costa-Jackson’s musical offerings were sublime as she masterfully characterized each scene through her beauty, manner, gestures, charm, and rapturous voice. Her dramatic power launched the ineffable disintegration of the honorable soldier Don José who could not escape her elegiac spell. Tenor Terrence Chin-Loy as Don José sang with eloquence, finish, and virtuosity and ably expressed the sympathetic character doomed to suffer the most under Carmen’s intoxicating enchantment.
Sperling’s conducting was expressive, inspired, and precise. The chorus, soloists, and Orchestra of St. Luke’s responded in kind by ably expressing a succession of virtuosic expressive passages. With this performance, we were treated to the finest composite of intellectual and emotional treats an operatic production can convey.
Bravo to Ted Sperling, MasterVoices, The Orchestra of St. Luke’s, the technical and artistic teams, dancers, and singers.
Music by Georges Bizet Libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, English Language Translation by Sheldon Harnick Conductor and Artistic Director of MasterVoices Ted Sperling Directed by Sammi Cannold Choreographed by Gustavo Zajac The Orchestra of St. Luke’s Scenic design by Ann Beyersdorfer Costume design by Nicole Slaven Lighting design by Brian Tovar
CAST OF CHARACTERS
CARMEN Ginger Costa-Jackson (mezzo soprano)
DON JOSÉ Terrence Chin-Loy (tenor)
MICAËLA Mikaela Bennett (soprano)
ESCAMILLO John Brancy (baritone)
FRASQUITA Nicole Fernandez-Coffaro (soprano)
MERCEDES Kimberly Sogioka (mezzo soprano)
REMENDADO William Ferguson (tenor)
DANCAIRO & MORALES Michael Kelly (baritone)
ZUNIGA Leo Radosavljevic (bass)
DANCERS: Camila Cardona, Laura Peralta, and Isaac Tovar
Tickets, priced from $30 to $175, available at jazz.org, at the Jazz at Lincoln Center box office, Broadway at 60th Street, or by calling 212-721-6500.
Runtime 2 hours and 50 minutes
For information about MasterVoices go to MasterVoices.org.
Explore the 22-23 season of the Orchestra of St. Lukes at OSLmusic.org