In a deft, if coincidental stroke of “Life imitates Art,” the Canadian Opera Company’s opening night of Carmen resonated in a most Canadian manner. Earlier that day, the Supreme Court of Canada paved the way for the provinces to sue big tobacco; earlier the same week, Canada’s new Governor General, Michaëlle Jean, brought another “Micaëla” onto the world stage. Unfortunately, Mark Lamos’ vision and Richard Bradshaw’s realization of the perennial favourite lacked the passion, drama and colour of the present-day landmark events.
The problems began with a phraseless Prélude that zipped along at such a breathtaking pace that the intrepid band barely churned out the notes, leaving the subtleties of music for another day. Sadder still was the inability of Bradshaw to mesh Douglas Stewart’s stellar flute solo with Sarah Davidson’s clean and clear harp accompaniment in the Introduction to Act III. More astonishing was the soon-to-follow celli offering: two rehearsals short of readiness.
Lamos seemed unable to use the Hummingbird’s vast terrain to advantage. The crowd scenes were particularly, er, crowded. The boisterous gang of young smugglers-in-training (whose angelic voices were always a pleasure) was thrust about the stage aimlessly like gleaming spheres in a pinball machine. The Act I gate that protected the police from their public, miraculously lifted (yet stylishly so, thanks to Michael Yeargan’s savvy set design), only to descend back into place for the too “on-the-nose” metaphor of Don José’s upcoming prison stint. Who would have guessed?
Plotting the movement of the lovers only served to lessen the impact of their angst. José’s confession of love (La fleur que tu m’avais jetée) was more declaimed to the patrons of orchestra-right than the object of his desire. Later in the wonderfully designed tavern of Lillas Pastia (resplendent with a juke box and vinyl-covered chairs) the brazen, devil-may-care Carmen tidied up the set before tearing out the hearts of the men in her strife.
Nonetheless, the smaller ensembles were far more successful with a bit of vaudeville, sight gags and collectove flow all of which combined to excellent effect.
Vocally, the outstanding performance came from Paulo Szot as Escamillo. His campy entrance as a rockstar/toreador (surrounded by CK, muscle-shirted soldiers without a cause) is worth the price of admission alone. Szot carried off his table-dance aria with panache, which only worked because of his exemplary musicianship and effortless range. Olay!
Atilla Kiss’ Don José had some memorable moments, soaring easily to the top whenever required, but his more introspective final cadences—whether alone or in duet—were just enough under target to cause a twinge of discomfort. Ana Ibarra had a flexible range and an endearing presence, however the slight metallic edge to her tone became a distraction; the deceptively treacherous Micaëla’s aria would benefit from a wider dynamic range and a more secure conclusion.
In the title role, Larissa Kostiuk was undisputedly sexy but unable to dig down into the sultry, near animal qualities required to carry off the role. Despite the primary reds that draped so many of her admirers, Kostiuk’s demeanour couldn’t shake off its pastel rose.
The supporting cast often took up the slack, notably Virginia Hatfield (Frasquita) and Michèle Bogdanowicz (Mercédès) whose contributions did not go unnoticed by the first night's sold-out crowd. JWR