Evaluation: ‘Carmen’ Returns to Its Comedian Opera Roots

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Can we really know Bizet’s “Carmen”?

To be honest, the opera might single-handedly fill out a playlist of classical music’s biggest hits, with its Overture, Habanera and “Toreador Music,” amongst different gems. It has performed on the Metropolitan Opera over a thousand instances because it debuted there in 1884.

However that grand-opera model, with its recitative — and a few ballet music tailored from the Bizet catalog — was finalized after the composer’s demise. When the work premiered on the Opéra Comique in Paris, in 1875, audiences as an alternative heard spoken dialogue in between the rating’s rip-roaring numbers.

While you take away the next meddling, and dial issues again to Bizet’s unique thought for “Carmen,” you get a sleeker, funnier present: one by which the tawdry violence and blithe indifference to pat morality comes off with a devil-may-care kick.

Most corporations stick with the grand-opera confection. But MasterVoices — New York’s scrappy, pop-up music drama specialists — introduced the unique thought to city on Tuesday for a one-night-only efficiency on the Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Middle. (It was sung and spoken in English, utilizing a fluid, ingenious translation by Sheldon Harnick, the Broadway veteran and lyricist of “Fiddler on the Roof.”)

As sung by the mezzo-soprano Ginger Costa-Jackson, this Carmen was suitably entrancing, but additionally a savvy operator. Her mixture of laser-sharp intonation and a darkish timbre has been heard in smaller roles on the Met, the place she is a member of the younger artist program, however the intimacy of the Rose Theater allowed her higher freedom for delicate dramatic results.

When rebuffing ceaseless male consideration in Act I, Costa-Jackson used cabaret theatrics, together with flicks of the finger and beneficiant servings of facet eye, to emphasise how a lot of Carmen’s story — even her vaunted independence — quantities to a present noticed by the citizenry of Seville.

There have been slight indicators of pushing too exhausting throughout the Habanera, however Costa-Jackson’s aggressive, total tackle the function was a hit, particularly by the third act: As Carmen got here nose to nose with a grim recognition of her unalterable destiny, she had full command of a glowering energy, simply slicing via a few of Bizet’s most dramatic scoring.

Simply as robust was the soprano Mikaela Bennett as Micaëla. Her prime notes sparked as clearly on Tuesday as they did in Michael Gordon’s doom-metal chamber opera “Acquanetta” in 2018. John Brancy’s suavely heat baritone made for a dashing Escamillo. And though the tenor Terrence Chin-Loy’s honeyed sound as Don José might overindulge within the character’s naïveté, he produced a climactic characterization of genuine, thrilling malevolence.

Ted Sperling, MasterVoices’ creative director, carried out an Orchestra of St. Luke’s efficiency of polished, singing ease. Through the first act’s expositional recounting of Carmen’s knife struggle, Sperling rushed the tempo a bit, making it troublesome for the expert singers of the MasterVoices refrain to be heard as cleanly as elsewhere. But his studying was in service of a night that strutted.

MasterVoices tends to underpromise then overdeliver, and Tuesday’s efficiency was fastidiously not billed as a staging. However with this forged — and a few choreography by Gustavo Zajac — it was way more than a mere live performance.

Beforehand, I’ve admired the best way Sperling and his gamers can work out an issue piece like Kurt Weill’s “Girl within the Darkish” or the largely forgotten “Let ’Em Eat Cake,” by the Gershwins. Their solely actual downside is budgetary. Brief runs or one-night performances are nice for audiences within the know. However think about a steady residence, and enduring engagements, for these musicians. They may go from being a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it novelty to one thing that New York desperately lacks: a standing, smashing comedian opera firm.

Carmen

Carried out on Tuesday on the Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Middle, Manhattan.

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