CARMEN – Closing the season at San Francisco Opera

SF Opera offers classic favorite in annual “Opera For Families”

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Sean Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Photo by Lynn Imanaka

Georges Bizet’s CARMEN is definitive French Opera. Having served-up an opening performance that shimmered and smoldered with all things Francais, one might guess that Italian maestro Nicola Luisotti’s heart has suddenly been seduced by the Opéra Comique à Paris. For the SF Opera Orchestra, it was sparkle and fireworks all the way. The enticing chorus of feisty cigarette girls and the local dandies and dusty soldiers addicted to their hand-rolled delights and fiery affections, along with the best ever ensemble of children’s voices – all under the preparation of Chorus Director Ian Robertson – were on their own roll throughout Act I. By contrast, principal leads mezzo-soprano Kendall Gladen as “Carmen” and tenor Thiago Arancam as “Don Jose” were very slow to ignite – smooth, yes, but no cigar. By the middle of Act II, there was more punch behind the well-known hits. Kendall Gladen turned up the heat for the taunting “Je vais danser en votre honneur…la-la-la” (leaving the castanets to the percussion section). Thiago Arancam received the largest round of applause (so far) for a more-dynamic and steadfast rendition of José’s popular – “La fleur que tu m’avais jetée” (“The flower you threw to me”). By the third and final act, the pair of ill-fated lovers were two-on-a-match and peaking on an ecstatic high. Perhaps they should have lit-up earlier.

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Thiago Arancam (Don Jose), Kendall Gladen (Carmen) and
Wayne Tigges (Zuniga). “Tie her up good. Easy, easy!”
Photo, Cory Weaver

Brazilian baritone Paulo Szot packed a wallop as the bullfighter, “Escamillo”. Szot has all the required chutzpah to win the heart of a lusty Carmen and a strong upper register to empower the climactic moments of the Toreador’s song of bravado and conquest. Sara Gartland is an inviting and persuasive “Micaëla”. Her voice is very bright and at times a bit strident. But by her Act III aria, “Je dis que rien ne m’épouvante” (“Nothing can frighten me”), her pronounced vibrato was warm and pleasing and the overall placement conveyed strength and determination. The roles of Carmen’s girlfriends and card-throwing predictors of the future, “Frasquita” and “Mercedes”, were harmonically suited to soprano Susannah Biller and mezzo-soprano Cybele Gouverneur. Trevor Scheunemann, last seen in 2010 as “Jake Wallace” (La Fanciulla del West) and as “Count Almaviva” (Le Nozze di Figaro) was a total standout in the supporting role of “Moralès”. And a special Hats-Off to young Gabriel Laude as “the Guide” to Micaëla in Act III. A member of the elite Concert Group of the SF Boys Chorus, Gabriel’s impeccable French was formidable.

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SARA GARTLAND (Micaela) — PAULO SZOT (Escamillo)
Photo, Cory Weaver

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SUSANNAH BILLER (Frasquita) — CYBELE GOUVERNEUR (Mercedes)
Photo, Cory Weaver

Bizet’s Carmen is packed with an extravagant superabundance of enduring arias and orchestral hits. For all its sweaty heat, tobacco-stained atmosphere, misplaced etiquette, gritty terrains, violent crime, and other really-frowned-upon public comportment – gambling, chain smoking, drunkenness, overt soliciting, across the border smuggling, loaded guns in public squares, brandishing of knives, and a bit of low-brow witchcraft – Carmen is the perfect choice for the Company’s annual opera for Families. The abbreviated 2-hour version will be sung in English, with supertitles, and is recommended for kids 10 years and older. Nothing here they haven’t heard about or seen on the Internet by now! The two performances will feature current Adler Fellows Maya Lahyani (Carmen), Brian Jagde (Don José), and Ryan Kuster (Escamillo). The SF Opera Education Department will also present interactive exploration workshops prior to each performance to engage and prepare children and their families for the performance. Rachel Henneberry, Stage Manager for Carmen, will transport participants into the world of this dramatic tale. Families will learn about the characters by re-enacting a staging rehearsal and taking on all of the roles from props master to Carmen herself. Snacks will be served after each workshop. The workshops on Sunday, November 27th will take place at 11:00 am–12 noon and 12:30 pm–1:30 pm at Chorissima Hall in the San Francisco Girls Chorus Building, 44 Page Street. The workshop on Sunday December 4th will take place at 10:30 am–11:30 am in the Chorus Room on the 5th Floor of the War Memorial Opera House; enter through the North Stage Door on the corner of Franklin and Fulton Streets.

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Brian Jagde — Maya Lahyani — Ryan Kuster

On a personal note:
Who knows how an opportunity such as “Carmen For Families” might inspire a young wannabe singer who has never attended – much less, heard – a production of a “Grand Opera”? After years of watching the “Bell Telephone Hour” and “The Voice of Firestone”, it wasn’t until I was 16 that I saw my first full-fledged production of an opera, and in the War Memorial Opera House. Money and the fine arts were always touchy issues growing up. But my high school sponsored the “Usher’s Club” – which meant that if you were willing to take tickets or hand out programs to the patrons, you could stand in a special section and watch the performance for free. One fall semester, the available opera happened to be Carmen. Being as star-struck then as I am now, my motivation to join was the opportunity to see soprano Mary Costa as “Micaëla”. (Regina Resnik sang “Carmen”.) Six years before that, I had developed an obsession with Mary Costa – the voice of Aurora in Walt Disney’s then newest full-length animation, “Sleeping Beauty”. It was announced she would sing one performance as “Micaëla” and nothing could stop me from being there. I left enraptured. During one of the intermissions I learned that a few years earlier, she had sung “Musetta” on an RCA Victor recording of La Bohème featuring Anna Moffo and Robert Merrill. So, I saved my money for that and wound up getting hooked into baritones. And Puccini, of course. Lately, I’ve been lusting after a photo of Mary Costa downstairs near the snack bar. It’s taken from her 1963 appearances as “Violetta” in La Traviata. Yes, that’s me, always waving at Mary. It doesn’t matter how the initiation starts, but that it starts. Carmen For Families is a great way for a kid to get started.

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CARMEN, ACT I — Le Choeur des Gamins.
Photo, Terrence McCarthy

Note previously announced cast listings:
Kendall Gladen will now sing Carmen on November 6, 9, 26, 29 and December 2, 4.
Anita Rachvelishvili will take the role on November 12, 15, 17, 20 and 23.

Click on the date to order tickets on-line:
Wednesday, November 9th, 7:30 pm
Saturday, November 12th, 8:00 pm
Tuesday, November 15th, 8:00 pm
Thursday, November 17th, 7:30 pm
Sunday Matinee, November 20th, 2:00 pm
Wednesday, November 23rd, 7:30 pm
Saturday, November 26th, 8:00 pm
Tuesday, November 29th, 7:30 pm
Friday, December 2nd, 8:00 pm
Sunday, December 4th, 7:30 pm

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CARMEN, Act II – “Je vais danser en votre honneur” – Kendall Gladen
Photo, Cory Weaver

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