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In Review > North America

La Tragédie de Carmen

NAPLES, FL
Opera Naples, Arts Naples World Festival
5/1/15

In 1981, stage director Peter Brook, in collaboration with writer Jean-Claude Carrière and composer Marius Constant, stunned the opera world by presenting, in an arena-like theater in Paris, a revision of Bizet’s Carmen that ran just ninety minutes. Its title, La Tragédie de Carmen, said it all. Brook eliminated many characters — and all choruses of soldiers, children and factory workers — in order to concentrate the action on the four main characters. All the major arias were maintained and dramatically rearranged for a chamber orchestra. The opera opened the year after in New York City and has been revived many times since then all over the operatic world.

One must thank the young Opera Naples, in partnership with the yearly Arts Naples World Festival, for an imaginative and beautifully done new production of the Brook Tragédie. Daringly, the opera takes place in the opera’s rehearsal space in the middle of Naples’s industrial district. Without any stage sets, the raw power of the warehouse was sufficient to transport the audience into a world of sex, violence, and superstition. The fourteen-member orchestra sat to the left of the stage, a mere dark floor with a wooden pole as sole accessory, and on the naked back wall, the projection of Robert Capa’s famous photograph of a dying soldier during the Spanish Civil War. We are in Franco’s Spain as Judith Hushon’s costume designs made immediately apparent. 

La Tragédie may be short but is a hard opera to act and sing. There is no relief in the tension: it is made for a small audience in close viewing and listening. Maestro Ramón Tebar takes obvious pleasure in conducting the musicians of the orchestral ensemble, who do a good job, both together and separately.

Mario Corradi’s intelligent direction follows Peter Brook’s original staging quite closely, but Corradi understandably used his incredibly good-looking cast to play up the sexual tension, and occasionally the violence. Mexican mezzo-soprano Carla Dirlikov, a well-practiced, sexy Carmen, dominated the show. She moved suggestively, singing the habanera from atop the audience, deep-kissing a stunned Micaela. Dirlikov’s dark mezzo displayed all the nuances that make Carmen an independent woman in love. Following a Gitano wedding ceremony that Corradi staged as something between Catholic ritual and a tarot reading, Dirlikov’s Carmen appeared somewhat transfigured, yet with no fear of death. 

During the last act, Corradi (who also appears as a great Lillias Pastia) introduces a black, hooded figure of Death that reminds one of Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. Corey Crider’s baritone is beautiful and wide-ranging. He sang a smart, elegant, masculine Escamillo without the macho overkill, and seemed to be deeply in love with Carmen. Puerto Rican soprano Marinel Cruz was a promising young Micaela, not yet fully in control of her instrument, who offered a less resigned and more interesting character than in Bizet’s opera. Last but not least, Casey Finnigan delivered a fierce Don José who behaved as more of an uncontrolled murderer than a lover in Brook’s reading of the story. The scene of the murder with Carmen slowly falling along the pole, arms outstretched as on a cross, was stunning. spacer 

JEAN-FRANÇOIS LEJEUNE

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