in: Reviews

July 19, 2009

Giving Emerging Artists a Chance: Boston Opera Collaborative Offers Carmen

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According to its mission statement, the Boston Opera Collaborative “is a non-profit membership organization dedicated to providing opportunities for emerging artists – including singers, directors, conductors, and theater technicians – to bridge the gap between higher education and a career in the arts.” With its wealth of higher education institutions, Boston needs such a group. Everyone helps by handing out programs and even baking the refreshments.

This summer the Collabortive is tackling Bizet’s Carmen, one of the staples of the operatic repertoire, with performances at the Bulger Performing Arts Center at Boston College High School. The Saturday, July 18, performance was enthusiastically received by the capacity audience; next weekend there will be alternating casts.

We knew that we were in capable musical hands as the overture began under the direction of Michael Sakir. Act I sets the boisterous scene and also hints at the unfolding tragedy. The Seville dragoons and the cigarette girls led by the sultry Carmen (Désirée Maira) flirt with one another as she sings her habanera “L’Amour est un oiseau rebelle”; Katrina Holden (Frasquita) and Christina English (Mercédès) were excellent throughout as Carmen’s sinuous sidekicks.

Rebecca Teeters (Michaëla) and Jeffrey Nardone (Don José) provided the Act I highlight in their wonderful duet about the letter from Don José’s mother. Nardone later surpassed himself in Don José’s tragic aria, “La fleur que tu m’avais jetée.” Teeters also excelled in her moving Act III aria, about saving Don José from Carmen’s wiles. She is a performer worth watching.

Baritone Jeffrey McEvoy failed to capture Escamillo’s heat and natural swagger. His toreador song was tepid, and he was not subsequently helped by Nathan Troup’s direction to turn his back to the audience. In fact, the opening of Act II at Lillas Pastia’s tavern was curiously subdued. At the end of Act III, however, Escamillo’s singing from afar was more effective.

The production’s limitations were dispelled in the devastating Act IV. Facing away from the audience, the crowd watched the bullfight from an elevated ramp at the back of the stage while the important action occurred behind them. When Don José stabs Carmen in a fit of rage and leaves her bound by the decoration as the crowd sings “The Toreador Song,” two wonderful theatrical events occurred simultaneously. The lights were trained on the theater audience while the bullfight crowd cheered. Then the audience erupted with clapping and whistling.

Subsequent performances are on Friday, July 24; Saturday, July 25; and Sunday, July 26.

Larry Phillips studied music at Harvard,  Montreal Conservatory, and New England Conservatory. In 1974 he was a prizewinner at the International Harpsichord Competition in Bruges, Belgium.

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