Opera San José's Carmen
February 14, 2022
* Notes *
A colorful production of Carmen opened at Opera San José last weekend with a sharp cast. Director Lillian Groag's staging is lively with supernumeraries and flamenco dancers.
Music Director Joseph Marcheso kept the orchestra fairly neat, only a few moments here and there were off-kilter. The brass were clear and the woodwinds lovely.
The set is clean, stairs and a series of arches for the most part. There were nice details, like the water pump that Carmen washes her feet in during Act I. The heavy lifting for the staging was certainly in the physicality of the performers, whether it was the adorable, dimpled Amalinaltzin De La Cruz (pictured in Act II with Eugene Brancoveanu as Escamillo) as Little Carmen or Carmen herself punching Morales in the face.
The most novel part of the production was the use of supernumerary Jim Ballard as Amor Brujo ("Bewitched Love"). We first see him during the overture cutting Carmen's braid, and he pops up throughout, ghost-like and looking more like a personification of death than love. He is quite a presence and he did many floreos (hand articulations from flamenco) as he moved across the stage.
The inclusion of four real flamenco dancers from The Flamenco Society of San José in Act II was truly exciting, they were great.
The Sunday matinée performance featured tenor Richard Trey Smagur (pictured with Nikola Printz as Carmen) as Don José, he shares the role with Noah Stewart. Smagur has an open, plaintive sound. Mezzo-soprano Nikola Printz embodied Carmen, their voice is clear and acting very strong. My only quibble was with their castanet playing, it was tentative compared to the flamenco dancers. Otherwise, it was an enchanting and convincing performance, it was obvious why Carmen is so arresting and seductive.
I loved hearing soprano Anne-Marie MacIntosh as Michaëla, her sound is so bright and pretty. Baritone Eugene Brancoveanu is appealing as Escamillo, there is some texture to his lower range, but he has warm resonances as well.
Bass-baritone Leo Radosavljevic was a touch quiet as Zuniga, the character was treated with a startling brutality by the smugglers, all of whom sounded quite nice, however. Soprano Teresa Castillo is a saucy, youthful Frasquita and mezzo-soprano Stephanie Sanchez as Mercédès has a distinct sound from Carmen. The quintet "Quand il s’agit de tromperie" was pleasantly rounded off by tenor Jared V. Esguerra (El Remendado) and bass-baritone Rafael W. Porto (El Dancaïro). Bass-baritone Peter Morgan (Moralès) has a grainy voice that cut through the chorus.
* Tattling *
I was glad to note that the California Theatre requires proof of a booster to attend performances. It was perfectly easy to get through the line within a few minutes.
There was some plastic rustling in Row E at the beginning of the performance, but this did subside pretty quickly. More annoying was a woman who arrived late after the first intermission and had the usher get five people in Row C to stand up during the flamenco dancing to let her to her seat, only to realize this was very disruptive and had her sit in a more accessible seat in Row B.
But the most obnoxious thing was certainly at the end of the tenor's Act II aria "La fleur que tu m'avais jetée" when someone's Apple Watch pinged their iPhone.