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Performances

Photo by Jiyang Chen
15 May 2015

The Singers Sparkle in New York Opera Exchange’s Carmen

New York Opera Exchange’s production of Carmen from May 8th to 10th highlighted that which opera devotees have been saying for years: Opera, far from being dead, is vibrant and evolving.

The Singers Sparkle in New York Opera Exchange’s Carmen

A review by Alexis Rodda

Photos by Jiyang Chen

 

Audience members packed into the church hall at the Church of the Covenant on East 42nd Street to witness the spectacle of a small, emerging company taking on one of the grandest operas in the common repertory.

While not a traditional performance space, the production team managed to make this small church hall feel much like a genuine theater. Creative lighting placement added to the authenticity of the theatricality, and while the set was simple and unchanging for the duration of the opera, it was beautifully designed and offered a basic backdrop for the action of the opera. The stadium-style set suggested a metaphor oft-utilized in many previous Carmen productions — that Carmen and Jose are but two sparring members of a bullfighting ring.

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Indeed, the entirety of the production existed in the realm of the traditional, taking very few liberties that might have contributed to a more creatively imagined Carmen. At the same time, the production found its strength in remaining traditional. The costuming was temporally nebulous and at times inconsistent, but in general costume designer Taylor Mills offered beautiful displays of craftsmanship, in particular with Micaela’s and Carmen’s attire. The score was well-preserved, with few cuts. This allowed for the audience to experience beautiful music often missing from productions by smaller companies, particularly the chorus numbers, which shimmered in this production, especially those sung by the female chorus.

The orchestra was on the same level as the audience, but partitioned to create a semblance of a pit. There are few things more pleasing than the opportunity to hear a full, unreduced orchestra; however, in this case, the orchestra provided proof that bigger is not always better. The orchestra, under the baton of music director Alden Gatt, grew increasingly ragged throughout the night, with some notable moments of unraveling that were obvious even to the untrained ear. Intonation and rhythmic problems were rampant throughout the night, while dynamics and musical variation were sorely underutilized. Gatt appeared at times oblivious to the breathing needs of his singers, forcing the singers into some awkward phrasing choices. There were moments of beauty, however, which hinted at the potential of this orchestra with some polishing, particularly during the overture and entr’acte.

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It is to the credit of the fine group of singers that they managed as well as they did. The ensemble of singers struggled against a languid orchestra to stay on the beat, but they pulled it off admirably, especially in the jaunty smuggler’s ensemble at the close of Act II. The vocal talent was remarkable and the strongest element of NYOE’s Carmen. Avery Amereau (Carmen) has an effortlessly rich mezzo-soprano voice worthy of any professional stage in the industry, with the charisma to match. Victor Starsky’s Don Jose is terrifying and compelling, with a voice that performs vocal acrobatics with strength and beauty that remains undiminished through his final line. The scenes between Amereau and Starsky were electric like nothing else in the opera, both vocally and dramatically. The ensemble scenes sagged beneath banal and stiff staging, but vocally, each singer shone with professionalism and artistry. Of the smaller roles, Kate Farrar (Mercedes) stunned with a remarkably rich mezzo-soprano sound, while Kaley Lynn Soderquist (Micaela) soared through her high range.

Despite the kinks in this production, New York Opera Exchange is onto something, which is bringing together a community of artists, entrepreneurs, and culture-seekers. Artistic Director Justin Werner manages to infect others with his enthusiasm through sheer force of charisma and passion. Only four years old, New York Opera Exchange has serious potential to grow in excellence and artistry, and this vibrant production of Carmen suggested the beginning of this budding future.

Alexis Rodda

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