Monday, April 1, 2019

S.D. Opera’s Excellent “Carmen” Exceeds All Expectations

For those of you contemplating whether or not to catch San Diego Opera’s last production of the season, Georges Bizet’s, “Carmen”, don’t.  I have a coin that on one side that reads “Just do it.”

One of my sixth grade teachers had as his motto: ‘I could kick myself’. You will as well if you let this one get by without you in the audience.

Aside from being Bizet’s popular and sensual all time favorite seductress Mezzo-soprano Ginger-Costa Jackson embodies this Carmen, the gypsy girl, so that at times during the performance when she infuriated her ex lover tenor Robert Watson’s Don José it looked like he was going to pull her hair right out of her head dragging her across the stage. Physical? Yes, very.

Ginger Costa-Jackson
Ms. Costa- Jackson unlike so many of the other Carmen’s I have seen is stealth -like and crafty, teasing and alluring like a push-me pull you as when she’ trying to capture Jose’s attention outside the tobacco factory in Seville. (“Habanera”, “L’amour”) and does it in a cunning and alluring way. Even if he doesn't show he sees what's happening, the tension builds.

 After she finally teases him enough for him to follow her and her gypsy band into the mountains, she will once again convince him to desert the military and join the band of outlaws.

“Carmen” is the classic love triangle drama between the sensuous, sexy and vivacious gypsy girl, a jealous Spanish soldier and the handsome Toreador, Escamillo (Bass, Scott Conner)

It is one of the most popular among audiences and on opening nigh where nary an empty seat could be found, the audience responded in kind to the exciting arias, lush, and soaring  voices and dramatic acting. When Costa-Jackson comes on the scene, the opera takes off  and doesn't land until the final death scene. 

Making his company debut Robert Watson’s José started off a bit hesitant but don’t be misled. His tenor voice went into high gear when he needed it and he didn’t hesitate to give us the full range of it (“Flower Song”) and when his mood quickly became brooding and foreboding (“Carmen, je t’aime!”) we felt it.

Sarah Tucker and Robert Watson
But it was already too late for José as Carmen was thinking ahead about Escamillo after his grand entrance into the gypsy’s hiding place strutting and swaggering about, singing his famous “Toreador Song” while bragging about his bullfighting conquests and his ability to pick up women on the go.

With mezzo-soprano Mercedes (Guadalupe Paz), Frasquita (soprano Tasha Koontz) and Carmen all joining in the refrain (“Amour”) the end of the love affair is already in a downward spiral.

Ms. Costa-Jackson and Scott Conner
Strong performances, while coming from the top down, include Soprano Sarah Tucker as Micaëla, Jose’s love interest until he meets Carmen. Among the men baritone Bernardo Bermunez, and tenor Felipe Prado, as part of the gypsy outlaw gang and bass- baritone Patrick Blackwell is Jose's senior who gets killed in the crossfires of Jose's madness. They are all  part of another dimension to an already tragic libretto packed with love, sex, machismo and finally death.

Robert Watson amd Ginger Costa-Jackson 
The full stage included more than a dozen young singers under the direction of Martin Green and Chorus Master Bruce Stasyna’s and his large chorus brought added depth to the overall production.

The choreography by Kyle Lang with twins Laurence Gonzalez and Lester Gonzalez performing between acts with what yours truly considered  the rivalry between José and Escamillo is new as is the physicality overall. 

Director Kyle Lang along with conductor Yves Abel and the San Diego Symphony Orchestra performed at an all time high. Costume designer James Schutte’s are average but tell the story and R. Keith Brumley’s set designed by Lyric Opera of Kansas City is lacking in imagination,. Chris Rynne's lighting focuses in on colors of the story and matching moods.
Tasha Koontz, Coasta-Jackson, Guadalupe Paz
This is one “Carmen” you will be talking about for some time. Yes the San Diego Opera does love its “Carmen” My first sighting, I believe was in 1984, and it too was the final production of the season.

See you at the opera.

Dates: Tues. April 2nd and Wed. April 3rd at 7.
Organization: San Diego Opera
Phone: 619-232-7636
Production Type: Opera
Where: 1100Thirrd Ave, Downtown San Diego
Ticket Prices: Check with box office
Venue: Civic Theatre
Photo: J. Kat Woronowicz

19/20 Season announced:

"Aida" 'A Theatrical Concert Opera "One Amazing Night".

"Hansel  And Gretel"

"The Aging Magician"( Balboa Theatre)

"The Barber of Saville"

"The Falling and Rising" (Balboa Theatre)


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