ISO presents partially staged Carmen 

Famed opera elevated about 6 ft. in Circle Theatre

click to enlarge Soprano Oksana Volkova sings Carmen
  • Soprano Oksana Volkova sings Carmen

The Hilbert Circle Theatre, home of the ISO, is not really constructed for staged opera productions: There is no orchestra pit; there are no curtains behind which sets can be changed. But with some imagination, the Circle stage was modified such that the reduced orchestra, conducted by ISO music director Krzysztof Urbański, occupied the front half of the stage while a wooden tier six feet above the orchestra was constructed on the stage's back half wherein the drama was played out.

Georges Bizet's Carmen was presented on Friday evening (and Sunday afternoon) as it would have been at Clowes Hall under Indianapolis Opera auspices, but with singers and players six feet above their respective locations in the latter venue--and few real sets. Plus, like Clowes/IO productions of ten years ago and earlier--regrettably no longer extant, the theatre was packed.

In place of sets, still and moving images were projected on the riser's back and side walls. Occupying the stage much of the time were members of the Indianapolis Symphonic choir, playing supernumeraries as well as singing. Twenty Indianapolis Children's Choir members raced up and down the hall aisles waving banners, then stood in front, all in a somewhat cameo appearance.

The story of the gypsy seductress who works in a Seville cigarette factory and spurns one man as fast as she takes up with another is well known, having many variants in literature. Bizet simply contributes to such a plot line a concentration of music so gorgeous, so highly inspired, so memorable that his opera's been at the top of the public-appeal charts ever since. Only Mozart has matched or exceeded Carmen in the use of memorable tunes to carry a story line -- and sending his audiences homeward humming. And only Puccini's La Bohème has surpassed Carmen in number of performances to date.

Soprano Oksana Volkova sang the weekend's title gypsy. She delivered her opening "Habañera" with well controlled opulence, continuing that trait throughout the production. Volkova's voice proclaimed a world-wise "street" woman who gradually came to realize and accept her imminent self destruction.

Amrerican tenor Evan Bowers, sang Carmen's (first) lover, Corporal Don José. Bowers' projection seemed occasionally forced, Volkova getting the best of him in their many duets. Bowers' "Flower Song" in Act 2 showed his best lyric vocalizing. Baritone Randal Turner completed the love triangle singing Escamillo, the dashing bull fighter, who charms Carmen away from Don José as readily as she had stolen José's attention from his intended bride Micaëla. Turner's introductory "Toreador Song" presaged a somewhat more even delivery, especially at his bottom registers, than Bower's.

In fact, all of the other male roles -- baritone Ross Coughanour as Zuniga, José's captain, baritone Teofil Munteanu singing officer Moralès and tenor Max Zander as Remendado, one of Carmen's gypsy companions -- showed highly competant singing.

On the other hand, soprano Emma Donahue, as Micaëla, sang with a very rich but less well controlled opulence than Volkova. Donahue's Act 1 "reminiscence" duet, "Parle-moi de ma mére," with José and her later gypsy camp aria, "C'est des contrebandiers," produced wobbly, occasionally off-centered tones.

Urbański once again led the ISO in a generally well honed if a bit metronomic a reading, one which could have used more verve throughout. June 11

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