Thursday, November 10, 2011

SFO's "Carmen"

San Francisco Opera
Bizet’s Carmen
November 6, 2011

The curtain calls caught mezzo Kendall Gladen tearing up, and it’s easy to see why. Gladen’s career was launched by an Adler Fellowship at San Francisco, and although she’s performed Carmen in Berlin, Los Angeles, Florida, Michigan and Saratoga, New York, this was her first at the old house. She is impressive in the role, endowing the nearly uncatchable character with a statuesque presence and a voice that goes deep without going too far. (The part goes to Anita Rachvelishvili 11/12-23; Gladen returns 11/26-12/4.)

Another fine balance was Thiago Arancam, who sang Don José with a spinto that was forceful without being forced, opening up splendidly on his top notes. Arancam’s performance of The Flower Song was memorable, and he’s a rare José who seems as young as his character.

The rarity in Escamillo is the ability to look good in a matador’s wardrobe, as does Paulo Szot. Szot sings in an easy baritone that fits his cool, James Bond demeanor; even in a knife fight, the man doesn’t sweat. I also enjoyed Wayne Tigges, who played Zuniga with a sinister intensity (and, like SFO’s Don Giovanni, an anachronistic pair of sunglasses – what is this, steampunk opera?). The only letdown was Micaëla, sung by Sara Gartland with a powerful but overcovered tone. She did, however, bring out the beauty in the Act 3 reprise of the melody about José’s mother.

The entire production projects a wonderful sense of nuance, beginning with Nicola Luisotti, who often conducts without a beat, preferring to paint the flavor of the passage until it comes time to strike a sudden downbeat. His orchestra succeeded in bringing out the great beauty of Bizet’s score, the exotic, mystic passages between and beneath the infectious melodies, especially in the woodwinds. Ian Robertson’s chorus brought out similar qualities with subdued, beautifully sung passages, particularly in the opening scene.

Jose Maria Condemi’s direction was subdued, as well, waiting like a cobra for the right moment to strike, whether it be a slo-mo freeze of Carmen and José’s first meeting (aided by Christopher Maravich’s artful lighting), the couple’s rather earthy embraces, and a handcuffed Carmen picking up the famed flower with her teeth. Arancam and Gladen performed the final stabbing with such brutal force that even this veteran lost his breath.

Jean-Pierre Ponelle’s set is a dream of efficiency, a stone-wall proscenium that accommodates a running slide-show of village, tobacco factory, tavern, mountain hideaway and bullfighting arena.

Image: Kendall Gladen (Carmen). Photo by Cory Weaver.

Through Dec. 4, War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco. $21-$330. 415/864-3330,

No comments: