BRANDON – “Carmen,” the musical comedy?
That’s exactly what Friday’s audience – granted, forewarned – got Friday at Brandon Music when Barn Opera presented its version of the Bizet classic. There was all of the opera’s beloved music, performed just how the composer wrote it – and quite well – but the story took a decidedly comic twist.
Sure the sultry Carmen seduces Don José, despite Micaëla’s best efforts. But, while the jealous “hero” defeats the macho Escamillo, he is no match for the confident and womanly Carmen. It’s a riot – but with a twisted end.
Barn Opera’s “Carmen” was the creation of its founder and artistic director, tenor Joshua Collier, who played Don José, or Jose in this version. Collier said he felt that Carmen got a bad rap in the original and while he didn’t say so, he didn’t like Don José very much. Micaëla, Michaela here, got short shrift in both versions.
Anyway, Brandon Opera, staged by Collier, moved the action from sunny Seville to a theater where a performance of “Carmen” is being prepared. Carmen is something of a dominatrix, and Jose certainly loves his role of submission. Carmen also has a thing going with Escamillo, but he doesn’t fare too well in the end. And Michaela loses out again.
Musically, the production employed the 1981 Peter Brook version for four singers. In the Brandon production, arias were sung in the original French, while spoken lines – Collier’s creation – were in English. Collier also rewrote the supertitles without changing the text of the arias. (French speakers in the audience enjoyed an additional laugh.)
Mezzo-soprano Julia Mintzer was the quintessential Carmen, sultry in voice and appearance, delivering those familiar arias with a passion that made them fresh. It didn’t hurt that she looked the part of the Gypsy siren.
Collier too was at home, both dramatically and vocally, in the ultimately pathetic character of Jose. Despite a tendency to bark in passion at the very end, he delivered most of Bizet’s gorgeous lyricism beautifully.
Jessica Jane Jacobs’ rich soprano, though a bit Italianate, beautifully contrasted Carmen’s darkness. Bass Nicholas Tocci had the perfect vocal and physical presence for the macho Escamillo.
Speaking roles of the producer and the director were played by Russ McColman and Bill Moore respectively. David Sawicki was music director as well as the able pianist who played the orchestra.
While Brandon Opera’s “Carmen” offered no profound insight, it was great fun – and the music was gorgeous.