Review: A very intimate 'Carmen' 

4 stars

Indianapolis Opera; Basile Opera Center; March 12.

Carmen with a husband, who is killed by Don Jose? Escamillo the toreador rammed to death by a bull? Morales stabbed to death by Don Jose (he's a triple murderer here)? Georges Bizet's 1875 swan-song opera Carmen's immense popularity over the entire 20th century to the present day once again confirms that success breeds imitation, emulation, variation. Indianapolis Opera is presenting La Tragedie de Carmen, a 1984 adaptation of the Bizet opera by Peter Brook. The production's venue is the Basile Rehearsal Hall, at the rear of IO's headquarters at 40th and Pennsylvania.

How's the following for a Carmen adaptation: a production scaled back from over three hours to 90 minutes — no breaks; a cast featuring only seven performers — no chorus or any supernumeraries; an orchestra scaled down to less than 20 players, including a pianist; a small stage with a table doubling as a bed as the only set; a seating capacity about one 10th of Clowes Hall, IO's usual venue. To compensate for the limited seating, Tragedie is being given eight times — four matinees and four evenings over the current two-week period.

Whether you're an experienced Carmen aficionado or an opera neophyte, you get overwhelmed here by over half of Bizet's memorable tunes — most out of their usual order, many reinstrumented. These are coupled with a plot line also at variance with the Meilhac and Halevy libretto used by Bizet, and more resembling the source novella by Prosper Merimee. This explains Carmen's husband: She didn't have or need one in the full opera. And Escamillo's death: He finally triumphs (offstage) in Bizet's bull ring. This production is aided by video dissolves projected on a large screen back of the stage. Its early projected pencil sketch of a full-frontal nude man and woman holding hands suggests that intimacy will predominate here.

The four principal singers are double cast to allow one appearance a day for each group. In Saturday's matinee, I heard mezzo Kristin Gornstein as Carmen, tenor Daniel Anderson as Don Jose, soprano Jacqueline Brecheen as Micaela and baritone Thomas Gunther as Escamillo. Of these, Gunther gives us the best voice, a rich, vibrant, well controlled vocalism. Brecheen and Anderson also project vibrant deliveries but with less containment. While Gornstein appears as a perfect embodiment of the strikingly beautiful, suave, sultry Carmen with a subliminal death wish, her vocal control is less than optimal, occasionally straying off pitch.

Still, these principals pour themselves into their roles with great gusto. Throughout the 90 minutes, Carmen and Don Jose have their hands all over each other in a succession of clinches, both on and off the "bed." Carmen thrusts up her heavily pleated skirt, showing lots of thigh in a simulated bathing scene. The production merits at least a PG rating.

La Tragedie de Carmen continues through March 20. For times and ticket information, call 940-6444.

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