A brutal story set to lovely music

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By Melissa Riedel-Espinoza

Georges Bizet’s “Carmen” is an opera that even opera haters find enjoyable. It’s catchy without being simple, beautiful without being schmaltzy, and it has depth and meaning without being preachy. Santa Fe Opera’s 2014 production takes on the challenges “Carmen” presents and gives audiences a satisfying experience.
“Carmen” is the saga of corporal Don José and Carmen, a factory worker. Despite the humor in the music and the dialogue, there is harshness in this story, which lends realism to the opera.
The designers for this production have done a stellar job by changing the location and adding technology to the show to avoid staleness. The staging is phenomenal, and the updates, rather than being a distraction, feel comfortable and lend interest to an opera that many audience members may have already seen.
The orchestra, under the direction of Rory MacDonald, is flawless. The areas where timing is critical are spot-on, and the sound and intensity are wonderful.
When a company stages a commonly performed opera, it has to work harder to make its production stand out, and MacDonald and his orchestra certainly did their part.
Daniela Mack was Carmen at the performance on July 5; later in the summer, Santa Fe will have Ana María Martinez singing this role. Mack has a smoky, velvety mezzo with a darkness that fits Carmen perfectly. In addition, she has an attractive stage presence.
This is the Carmen many have in mind when listening to this opera. Joyce El-Khoury’s Micaëla has a sweet, more old-fashioned sound that contrasts nicely with Mack’s blatant seductiveness.
The men are outstanding, as well; Roberto De Biasio has the heroic tenor sound that one expects with Don José, and his confusion and despair are evident at every turn. Kostas Smoriginas also impresses with his portrayal of Escamillo, the bullfighter. The men can be a weak point in this opera, but not in this production. This is an incredibly strong, effective group.
From the chorus, which is superb, to the costumes, which are entertaining and arresting, to the direction, which is inventive and truly refreshing, there is not a miss onstage in this opera. However, because this opera deals with adult subject matter, it is not the best choice for children or those who may be sensitive to portrayals of violence. Also, just in case some are not accustomed to attending the opera, please remember that the show begins at 8:30 p.m. (8 p.m. starting July 28) so arrive no later than 8 p.m., in order to have time to get to your seats. The overture is part of the opera, and not a time to get seated and settled. In addition, it is never appropriate to text on a cell phone in a darkened auditorium. The light is distracting, and your neighbors will definitely notice.
Carmen is a brutal, honest look at the wounds we inflict on one another; however, it never feels heavy, and the music is incredibly lovely.
This production is truly unique and should not be missed.