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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 21, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 42
What did she ever see in him?!
Arts & Entertainment
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What did she ever see in him?!

Carmen at Seattle Opera
McCaw Hall
Through October 29


There is much to admire in Seattle Opera's current production of Bizet's Carmen. The traditional sets, from Lyric Opera of Kansas City, are more than adequate; the opening night Carmen, Anita Rachvelishvili, was quite wonderful; and most of the cast was competent. But at the center was a gaping hole: a Don José with a truly hideous voice and very little acting ability. If the audience doesn't buy into José's raging hormones that gradually drive him mad, the story collapses into a bunch of set pieces, making the final scene a big thud.

So that we can focus on what went right on opening night (Oct. 15), let's get the ugly part out of the way. Mexican Luis Chapa had well-focused, attractive high notes (the loud ones), but the rest of his voice was a shambles. There's a sizeable instrument flapping around in there somewhere, but he has apparently no idea how to control it. His 'Flower Song' was the ugliest I have ever heard. His high notes apparently allowed him to get through Otello at Theater Freiburg and even a Tannhäuser at Tiroler Festspiele Erl, but I'm glad I missed those! Only once before have I ever booed a singer at Seattle Opera, and that was a tenor whom Speight Jenkins quickly dropped from scheduled subsequent appearances. Chapa does not, in my opinion, belong in a company of Seattle Opera's caliber.

Ms. Rachvelishvili, from the former Russian state of Georgia, was simply made for the role of Carmen. Her very large, rich voice met every challenge easily, displaying great musicality and expression. While she was not quite as sensual as some, she nonetheless accompanied herself on castanets and moved well enough. Her dark, Middle-Eastern looks didn't hurt at all. She is a mezzo to watch, even if it may take us a while to learn to say her name!

Norah Amsellem's Micaëla is not so lovely as it once was, with the tone becoming less attractive as she pushes for more volume, but she carried off her role well enough. Donovan Singletary, so attractive in last summer's Porgy and Bess, was no less dashing in his uniform this time as Zuniga. He is a natural on stage and his voice is effortless and ample. (In this performance he got shot dead at the end of the tavern scene.)

When Michael Todd Simpson first appeared, I thought, 'At last, an Escamillo who looks the part!' Although he sang well, neither his voice nor his acting conveyed much sexy bravado. A graduate of the Young Artists Program, perhaps he will grow into the hormonal pitch of the role. Less satisfying were the rather shrill voices of Amanda Opuszynski and Sarah Larsen, as Frasquita and Mercédès respectively. Joseph Lattanzi made a strong impression in his S.O. debut as Moralès.

Conductor Pier Giorgio Morandi kept things well in synch, and the orchestra played well for him; but I found the tempo a little heavy at times. Choreography by Peggy Hickey was added at appropriate moments and had a nice effect. As always, the S.O. Chorus was superb.

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu.

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