Everybody’s favorite bad girl in the world of opera is back again for a spectacular romp of delights, mischief, seduction, and tragic culmination in the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s 2010 revival of its 1999 production of Bizet’s Carmen. Complete with magnificent sets and spectacular costumes, the extravagant and emotionally irresistible production of Bizet’s theatrical magnum opus – which is currently being marketed as “The World’s Most Famous Opera” – is truly a feast for both the eyes and the ears. Add in the Lyric’s outstanding orchestra and some of the world’s greatest opera singers today in the title roles, and this production is absolutely breathtaking and audience-friendly – which is exactly what happened at the Civic Opera House on October 16th. The orchestra – although not overtly pompously loud in the Wagnerian style – enthusiastically delivered their instrumental numbers and masterfully accompanied the singers during their numbers. In turn, the cast of this opera – although not perfect – was intelligently selected, with each of the stars performing well to his or her fullest such that each accurately captured the whole being of each character. Rather than just acting the part, each star actually “became” his or her given character, fully drawing the audience in and allowing them to develop sympathies for the characters.

With regards to the individual cast members, each must be separately evaluated. Mezzo-soprano Katharine Goeldner – who was only supposed to perform as Carmen for the Lyric’s October 29th performance – filled in wonderfully for fellow noted mezzo-soprano Kate Aldrich, who had to bow out in the last minute due to pregnancy issues. Although not as seductive as the ultimate Carmen should be, Goeldner accurately portrayed a true “bad girl” with both a subversive and a cheeky side, drawing frequent giggles from audience members during the performance. On the same note, Korean lyric tenor Yonghoon Lee lent his wonderful and rich voice to the role of Don Jose, thus making up for his absence of physical muscularity and bravo required for the role. Elaine Alvarez as Micaela likewise lacked the light, floaty, and innocent voice required of Micaela; her heavy, spinto voice seemed almost out-of-place considering the nature of her gentle and pious character. Still, her dramatic acting and heartfelt rendition of Micaela’s prayer in the smugglers’ cave drew an overwhelming flood of applause, cheers, and shouts of “Brava!” from the audience. Finally, Kyle Ketelsen as Escamillo practically stole the show with his rich baritone voice and rock-star presence, accurately capturing both the physical and musical requirements of the role. Likewise, all the remaining stars, the Lyric's chorus, and even the adorable youngsters from the Chicago Children's chorus succeeded in bringing their characters to life. Despite the minor deficits mentioned above, a very good cast!

Dan Rest / Lyric Opera of Chicago
Dan Rest / Lyric Opera of Chicago

Overall, this Carmen production was absolutely stellar and perfect for any newcomer to the world of opera. As always, English supertitles were projected above the Lyric stage, drawing much giggles and even laughter from the audience when subtle humor and nuances appeared in the projected translation of the libretto. In addition, subtle symbolism abounded. For example, passionate Carmen was always clad in seductive dress always in full red or with red accents – almost as if to signal Satan and passion, while pious Micaela was clad in a modest blue dress – almost as if to signify the Blessed Virgin Mary and purity. At the end of the production, the cast and orchestra received overwhelming vocal and gestural acclaim, and I was totally enthralled to the point that I was disappointed that it had all ended when the curtain calls rolled around. Based upon this – my first trip to the Lyric – breathtaking experience, I definitely hope to return to the Lyric in the near future for more!

*****