Sunday, April 6, 2014

Review: 'Carmen'

Virginia Opera
Adam Turner conducting
April 6, Richmond CenterStage

Ginger Costa-Jackson, the mezzo-soprano in the title role of Virginia Opera’s current production of Bizet’s “Carmen,” has the dusky brilliance of voice and sinewy physicality that audiences crave in a Carmen. Abetted by stage Tazewell Thompson – or was it the other way around? – she essays this character with none of the usual ambiguity.

Singers and directors often try to mitigate the essential badness of Carmen by emphasizing her yearnings for “freedom,” or treat her as a femme fatale who just can’t help it. None of that here: Costa-Jackson’s Carmen delights in seduction, discards lovers like used tissues, dismisses the lives she ruins without a backward glance. She sneers. She leers. She’s a she-devil who gets the good tunes.

Whether this is what Bizet and his librettists, Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, had in mind is an argument for another time. This time, Costa-Jackson’s gypsy seductress is a character who might have been conceived by Quentin Tarantino, a personfication of danger and evil, and she pulls it off with a characterization that chills as it provokes.

She is ably supported by most of the rest of the cast. Dinyar Vania, as José, the corporal of the guard who falls under Carmen’s spell, conveys the conflict between obsession and duty in every vocal and physical gesture. Corrine Winters, as Micaëla, the sweet girl who would be José’s bride, sings and acts her part with touching naïveté. Matthew Sconlin, as Zuniga, officer of the guard, is thoroughly convincing as the worldly antipode to Vania’s José.

In the second of two Richmond performances, Ryan Kuster, as the toreador Escamillio, projected weakly and sounded hoarse. Vocal difficulties aside, he simply did not command the stage, even when spot-lit at its center.

He wasn’t helped by a Las Vegas lounge lizard outfit, the major wardrobe malfunction in Merrily Murray-Walsh’s otherwise inoffensive semi-modern-dress costume design. Scenic designer David P. Gordon sticks to the traditional, dusty rococo look of old Spanish Seville.

Choreographer and fight director Anthony Salatino finesses the challenge of integrating choristers and dancers, not overly taxing the singers as they work alongside frenzied gypsy dancers.

Adam Turner, Virginia Opera’s resident conductor and chorusmaster, taking over from conductor John DeMain in the Richmond performances, obtained energetic and atmospheric playing from the pit orchestra, drawn from the Richmond Symphony.

Final performances of Virginia Opera’s “Carmen” will be staged at 8 p.m. April 11 and 2 p.m. April 13 at the Center for the Arts, George Mason University, in Fairfax. Tickets: $44-$98. Details: (888) 945-2468 (;