Kate Aldrich, Morgan Smith

In Joel Ivany’s directorial debut for Vancouver Opera, this ninth production of Carmen was initially produced at the premiere of Vancouver Opera in 1960. A joint endeavor of Toronto, Montreal, and San Diego companies, 2014’s Carmen is well paced and visually appealing.

L’Opera de Montreal’s reworked costumes are authentic and fierce. Since 1874, the combination of the elements of music and a story of love, freedom, and obsession featuring seductive gypsies and smugglers, soldiers and toreadors, of lust and murder has delighted audiences. Vancouver loves Carmen: ours is saucy, sassy, and very sexy.

Carmen Vancouver Opera

This production, set in Latin America in the late 1930’s/1940’s, gets the mood set immediately with a graffiti backdrop evoking the oppression and poverty of the period. The Vancouver Opera orchestra is very much an extra character in this opera. The opening sequence at the beginning of each act perfectly sets the tempo and tone and builds an appetite. 

The minimalistic, high-contrast sets provide the stage and players a visual balance, no easy feat in a production that has the chorus on stage most of the time. The use of space demarcation is especially effective. The mannerisms – and smoking on stage by most of the company – evoke a time when life was fast and death was to be cheated. 

Kate Aldrich, Richard Troxell Ginger Costa-Jackson
[L to R: Kate Aldrich, Richard Troxell; Ginger Costa-Jackson]

The roles of Don José and Carmen are performed by two alternating actors: Richard Troxell and Kate Aldrich alternate with their vocal counterparts Christopher Magiera and Ginger Costa-Jackson respectively.

The use of the Opéra-Comique score with spoken word works well in this fast-paced tale of a struggle to do the right thing versus follow a blazing passion. It is this examination of the flaws in our very human character that is so deliciously wicked. Innocent Michaëla (played by Marianne Fizet, outstanding in a role with a voice that skates on cut glass) arrives in town searching for Don José (Richard Troxell) with a letter from his mother.

Don José’s platoon arrives, accompanied by a gang of street urchins (kudos to the Children’s Chorus for being scene- and heart stealers. I was smiling from ear to ear each time they appeared on stage). The women exit the tobacco factory on break, watched by the men of the platoon; the last to exit is wild Carmen (Aldrich on the night I attended). 

Sultry, Aldrich’s voice pure and strong, with an intoxicating allure that places the audience under her spell. Spellbound to the rich unfolding of unachieved desires and longings for more than love and the devil of feminine capriciousness, the next three hours pass in a luxury of sound and vision.

Morgan Smith Ginger Costa-Jackson, Morgan Smith
[L to R: Morgan Smith; Ginger Costa-Jackson, Morgan Smith]

I fell in love with toreador Escamillo (Morgan Smith) for his gregarious machismo. The parallel to the cult of celebrity was not lost on me. The infectiousness of the chorus was one of the night’s true delights. Carmen’s capitulation to love for Escamillo is empowering and the final complete sacrifice of sanity ending in her murder truly shocking.

This is a fun opera with so much going for it. The pacing of the production is quick and the final act a visual delight in stagecraft. Final props to the company for their induction into the BC Music Hall of Fame. The short run of only six performances is not to be missed.

Carmen continues at the Queen E Theatre through October 5. Photos by Tim Matheson.

About Our Contributor Monica Moberg

Monica Moberg

A long-time lover of Vancouver's multicultural landscape, Monica often feels like a kid in the candy store of life. She’s looking forward to sharing her perspective on the amazing smorgasbord of arts and culture offered throughout the year in our beautiful coastal city. Follow Monica on Twitter @MyVancouverView.

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