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Madison Opera: Bizet's "Carmen"

Bizet: Carmen

Carmen: Suzanna Guzman, mezzo-soprano
Don José: Patrick Deniston, tenor
Escamillo: Nmon Ford-Livene, baritone
Micaela: Robin Follman, soprano
Morales: Steven Jepson, baritone
Zuniga: Samuel Smith, bass
Frasquita: Sarah Lawrence, soprano
Mercédès: Merrette Rentmeester, mezzo-soprano
El Dancairso: Paul Rowe, baritone
El Remendado: James Doing, tenor
Madison Symphony Orchestra
John DeMain, conductor


The Madison Opera combined strong local and guest talent for two vibrant performances of Bizet's ever-popular Carmen last weekend before near-capacity audiences, proof that high-quality grand opera continues to flourish in our community.

Carmen is a story of the tragic results of jealousy. A handsome young dragoon, Don José, though attracted to Micaela, a shy but ardently adoring woman of the village, quickly succumbs to the passionate seductiveness of the Gypsy Carmen. This proves to be her undoing. Tiring of Don José's possessiveness, the free-spirited Carmen switches her affections to the dashing toreador Escamillo. In the final dramatic scene, Carmen confronts Don José, taunting him with "Either kill me or let me pass!" Insanely jealous, Don José stabs Carmen rather than let her follow Escamillo.

As the hot-blooded Carmen, Suzanna Guzman was much too reserved in the first performance but tapped impressive vocal and dramatic energies for the second one. Patrick Denniston's Don José was hampered by a lingering cold, which robbed his usually bright tenor voice of much of its lustre, though he managed very beautifully for his third-act lyrical climax the second time around. Nmon Ford-Livene, as Escamillo, revealed a resonant, beautifully lyrical baritone voice and had the bullfighter's swagger and bravado down pat. Robin Follman, as Micaela, was simply overwhelming, turning in performances that were entirely ravishing vocally and extremely affecting dramatically.

Excellent local and regional singers very capably handled the smaller roles, especially Carmen's companions Frasquita (Sarah Lawrence) and Mercedes (Merrette Rentmeester) and the smugglers Dancairo (Paul Rowe) and Remendado (James Doing). Members of the Opera Chorus gave a good account of dragoons, Gypsies, townspeople and smugglers, and a children's chorus was irresistibly charming.

The Oscar Mayer Theatre's lack of backstage space and a relatively small stage have always constricted the opera's choices for rental sets. This likely explains the dowdy, worn-out appearance of this one, which even the long experience of lighting designer William Owen could not fully offset. Problems with the set must also have hampered director Elizabeth Bachman, which may account for considerable sluggishness in moving the supporting cast around, with an attending loss of dramatic focus.

The music of Carmen is extraordinarily beautiful, and with John DeMain conducting, the Madison Symphony Orchestra was splendid, achieving a limpid transparency of sound alternating with high-energy exhuberance. The audience response included a standing ovation and sustains shouts of "Bravo!," cheers that I gladly echoed.

Isthmus, May, 2000
Copyright 2000 Jess Anderson

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