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Katharine Goeldner as Carmen and Yonghoon Lee as Don José [Photo by Dan Rest courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago]
03 Nov 2010

A Carmen Cast to Strength: Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Revival

For its second production of the current season Lyric Opera of Chicago has staged a modified revival of its Carmen under the direction of Harvey Silverstein.

Georges Bizet: Carmen

Carmen: Katharine Goeldner; Don José: Yonghoon Lee; Micaëla: Elaine Alvarez; Escamillo: Kyle Ketelsen; Zuniga: Craig Irvin; Frasquita: Jennifer Jakob; Mercédès: Emily Fons; Dancaïre: Paul Scholten; Remendado: René Barbera; Moralès: Paul La Rosa. Chicago Children's Chorus. Josephine Lee: Artistic Director. Alain Altinoglu: Conductor. Harry Silverstein: Stage Director. Robin Don: Set Designer. Robert Perdziola: Costume Designer. Jason Brown: Lighting Designer. Chorus Master: Donald Nally. Choreographer & Ballet Mistress: August Tye.

Above: Katharine Goeldner as Carmen and Yonghoon Lee as Don José [Photo by Dan Rest courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago]


The principals are assuming their roles for the first time at Lyric, and the conductor Alain Altinoglu makes his house debut in these performances. Katherine Goeldner fits exceptionally well into the production as a dramatically convincing and vocally assured Carmen. Yonghoon Lee projects his alternately confused and devoted emotional state in a forthright depiction of Don José. Elaine Alvarez and Kyle Ketelsen make strong impressions as Micaëla and Escamillo respectively. A well chosen supporting cast from the Ryan Opera Center fulfills the lyrical and dramatic needs of this colorful panorama which ultimately ends in tragedy.

In his approach to the overture Altinoglu encouraged a light touch with effective, percussive elements used to give structural shape. As the curtain rises on a mixture of pale greys and browns -- bathed here in a bright, summery light -- the collected soldiers laze about until Michaëla enters in search of Don José. Moralès leads the men in playful banter with the shy woman: here Paul La Rosa uses his warm, lyrical baritone to good effect as a Moralès whose urging at first assures, then repels Micaëla. In the latter role Ms. Alvarez applies vibrato and liquid notes sensitively to express the feelings she wishes to communicate when she finally locates José. At his entrance Mr. Lee strikes a disciplined pose as both soldier and compatriot to the maiden who has come to search for him. Only gradually during this and the following act does Mr. Lee’s persona show the descent into a world ruled by passion, once he encounters and becomes obsessed with Carmen. As the tempting femme Katherine Goeldner performs her two well-known arias from Act I as a natural extension of the character’s personality. At the words “prends garde” (“beware”), Goeldner sings forte with a convincing dramatic and vocal poise, following this with piano lines that delineate further her seductive and playful attitude. When she repeats her warning, the line is sufficiently varied to command the attention of a transfixed Don José, with Goeldner concluding on a dramatic top note. As the stage is then transformed by red illumination, José’s infatuation is -- in this production -- perhaps all too pointedly revealed to the audience. Ms. Goeldner’s seguidilla later in Act I is sung with equal assurance and admirable attention to linear detail. Despite the appeals so fervently delivered by the Micaëla of Ms. Alvarez, José is ultimately distracted to the point of assisting in Carmen’s escape.

The second and following acts of Lyric Opera’s Carmen make use of a set modified from the first act with altered lighting and effective placement of props. As Frasquita and Mercédès Jennifer Jakob and Emily Fons are exuberant foils to Goeldner’s Carmen, all three giving a sultry impression as they sing and cavort in ensembles. Perhaps most striking in this and subsequent acts is the image created for Escamillo by Kyle Ketelsen. His “Votre Toast” [(“Your toast”), Toreador Song] is a model of declamation, extended lyrical line, and an even projection from secure bass notes to a ringing, exciting top. Mr. Ketelsen’s experience in this role is further evident in the dramatic, convincing ease with which he projects both swagger and the need for adulation. As the rival for Carmen’s interest Mr. Lee soon pays what he presumes to be a brief visit to the gypsy camp. In his aria “La fleur que tu m’avais jetée” (“The flower which you threw to me”) Lee invests piano notes with sincerity and tenderness, yet the descriptive and dramatic portions of the aria show an overuse of forte singing. His revised commitment to the camp of smugglers is complete until Micaëla returns to seek him out in the third act. Ms. Alvarez gives an accomplished performance of Micaëla’s prayer-like aria in Act III, her tendency to shade lyrical phrases alternating touchingly with urgent pleas for divine help. Again, it is the Toreador whose melody ends the act and prepares the audience for a final scene of celebration and violence. In that last, brief act Mr. Lee’s desperate tone as Don José are appropriate to his character’s mental state, something which Goeldner’s Carmen refuses to take seriously until, tragically, too late.

Salvatore Calomino

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