Kentucky Opera has set a high standard for the 2011-12 season with their production of Carmen, which officially opens tonight at the Brown Theatre. Performances continue this Sunday afternoon and conclude next Friday evening.
Based on an 1845 novel by Prosper Mérimée’s novel of the same name Georges Bizet’s popular opera premiered in 1875 and has been a mainstay of the repertoire ever since; some much so that it is popularly referred to as one of the “ABCs of Opera,” meaning that, along with Aida and La Bohéme, Carmen is one of the most accessible crowd-pleasers in the canon.
Mezzo-Soprano Tara Vendetti lead an outstanding company in Kentucky Opera’s production of Bizet’s Carmen
at the Brown Theatre.
Wednesday night’s final dress rehearsal was not my first trip to Seville, nor was it my first encounter with the Gyspy cigarette girl. That being said director Kristine McIntyre’s interpretation has an earthiness and strength that let me fall in love with this classic anew. Mezzo-soprano Tara Vendetti’s Carmen is highly sexual, and playful but gone are the overtones of the evil siren who lures Don Jose to his doom. In this production Don Jose’s (Scott Piper) own weakness leads inexorably to his downfall.
Vendetti and Piper, both making their Kentucky Opera debuts have magnificent voices that easily fill the Brown, supported expertly by conductor Joe Mechavich and the orchestra. We expect no less from the singers who take the lead in the production and Kentucky Opera regularly delivers spectacular leads. What was most apparent last night was the work of general director David Roth and his team in developing the secondary roles via the Studio Artists program and the dramatic improvements in the chorus both vocally and in their ability to believably tell the story. In this case that includes a charming children’s chorus that performs at the standard we should expect of a professional company.  Norman Garrett who opens the show as Moralès is confident and easy in his delivery, setting the stage for everything that is to follow. He is joined shortly by another member of the program, Noel Bouley as Zuniga whose characterization of the Captain is as fine as his voice. Other Studio Artist stand outs include Carmen’s sidekicks: Frasquita (Abigail Paschke) and Mercédès (Claire Shackleton) who in addition to their singing, join in the dance as choreographed by my old friend Diana Dinicola.
Michael Mayes delivers a swash-buckling, self-important Escamillo, beautiful in the mid and upper registers. Soprano Heather Phillips, who sings the part of Michaëla, the peasant girl who might have save Don Jose from himself, is simply glorious.
I am so glad Kentucky Opera is able to present an addition evening of this production. Performances continue tonight, September 23 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, September 25 at 2 p.m. with a finale on Friday, September 30 at 8 p.m., all at the Brown Theatre. For tickets call 502.584.7777 or go to