COC’s Carmen, full of beautiful music and singing, but a more convincing portrayal of passion would help the opera from feeling flat
One needn’t be an opera fan to be familiar with much of the music of Bizet’s Carmen, with its beautiful arias that help weave the tale of love, passion, romance and betrayal. Carmen, a Gypsy—that epitome of freedom—takes life into her own hands and lives in the moment, a seductive woman with exceptional charm. These characteristics helps lend the opera to longevity and audience accessibility.
The cast of Canadian Opera Company’s latest undertaking of Carmen all soar individually, but the chemistry between the main characters, mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili as Carmen, and tenor Russell Thomas as Don José, just isn’t there. In an opera whose story demands the believability of the deep passion that eventually ruins the couple, this production doesn’t deliver.
The powerful and charged tenor of Russell Thomas never falters, and his voice is one you can hear in your head long after the curtains have dropped. He is convincing as a torn man who eventually falls to his jealousy and rage. He performs well as both a singer and an actor, which isn’t always the case in musical theatre.
Anita Rachvelishvili was a convincing, sultry Carmen. Where the passion lacked between she and Thomas, their portrayal of resentment toward the constraints of their relationship in Acts 3 and 4 was palpable. That is not to suggest there is a behind-the-scenes rift between the two, in fact, it is to highlight the quality of their acting.
Escamillo, the swaggering toreador, is sung by Christian Van Horn the dashing bass-baritone, and he is a delight each time he takes to the stage. In the most exciting part of the production, Director Joel Ivany opens Act 4 with a troupe of vendors and spectators weaving their way through the auditorium toward the stage—here now, the Plaza de Toros. In this moment, there is an electricity that flows throughout the opera house, and when the star bullfighter makes his way down the main aisle, it is easy to get lost in the excitement of what is to come.
Paolo Carignani conducts the music of Carmen evenly, but lacks the verve that one expects from such an iconic score. The production’s individual parts make a cohesive whole, but overall falls flat, failing to deliver that spine-tingling, goose bump inducing feeling that one hopes for from any Carmen.
Carmen is on stage at the Four Seasons Centre for Performing Arts through May 15.