Saturday, May 19, 2012

Review: 'Carmen'

Lyric Opera Virginia
Peter Mark conducting
May 19, The Steward School

“Jewel box” opera, about which Lyric Opera Virginia maestro Peter Mark has been doing a lot of explaining lately, turned out – in Bizet’s “Carmen,” anyway – to be not just truncation of a long show into 90 minutes, but also general downsizing of the production: small chorus and troupe of dancers and supernumeraries, one big scenic element manipulated to serve as several locations, and, most noticeably, a small pit orchestra.

In this production, Bizet’s not insubstantial orchestral score is played by clarinet, bassoon, French horn, trumpet, bass trombone, percussion and string quintet. The ensemble sounded to be amplified, and not very pleasantly so. Wiry, at times harsh, string sound, at a volume rivaling that of full-throated operatic vocalizing, detracted from what otherwise was a well-crafted abridgement with a fine cast of singers.

Magdalena Wór is in voice and appearance a very persuasive Carmen. Stage director Lillian Groag emphasizes the gypsy’s independence laced with nihilism, which Wór conveys with forcefully expressive singing and a physical and emotional stance that combines playfulness with sullenness. (Alex Apointe, the young super cast a street urchin, spends much of the show miming Carmen’s worldview and lifestyle.)

Jonathan Burton, portraying Don José, the young soldier who loses all for the elusive love of Carmen, started out this performance in a single dimension of expression but became more nuanced as the evening went on. Christopher Job give the role of the bullfighter Escamillo to a hale-fellow, smooth-tongued celebrity treatment – most effective in this context.

Suzanne Vinnik, as Micaëla, Don José’s old flame from back home, was suitably earnest and innocent in character and quite splendid vocally. Her solo arias are this production’s real show-stoppers.

The miniature choruses of soldiers and cigarette girls/gypsy wenches were in good voice and even better character. Their high jinks, and Apointe’s, provide more amusing distraction and atmospherics than one might expect in a production on this small scale.

Lyric Opera Virginia’s “Carmen” repeats at 7:30 p.m. May 20 in the Cramer Arts Center of The Steward School, 11600 Gayton Road in Richmond. The production concludes its run with performances at 7:30 p.m. May 23-24 at the Sandler Arts Center in Virginia Beach. Tickets: $20-$85. Details: (757) 446-6666;