Review: A very intimate 'Carmen'

Kristin Gornstein as Carmen and Daniel Anderson as Don Jose in the current production of 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


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.