BWW Reviews: Oh!’s LA TRAGEDIE DE CARMEN Not Bizet But Far From A Tragedy

By Katricia Lang
March 31, 2015

Emerald Cast: Carmen and Don José
(Briana Hunter and José Daniel Mojica)
Photography by Deji Osinulu

Clearly, love is a rebellious bird. Or at least it is in LA TRAGEDIE DE CARMEN, an adaptation of Georges Bizet‘s CARMEN, spearheaded by director Peter Brook who collaborated with composer Marius Constant and writer Jean-Claude Carriere.

The sweet and noble Micaëla visits childhood sweetheart José in Seville. (In the Opera in the Heights’ production, we are in 1930s Spain). Corporal José has murdered a man and is in hiding. As José and Micaëla reminisce, chronic flirter Carmen attempts to lure José with “L’amour est un oiseau rebelle (Habanera).” The girl can’t help it. Jealous, Micaëla picks a fight with Carmen. The rumble ends with José carting Carmen off to jail. At the jailhouse, Carmen beguiles José with “Seguidilla” and he releases her. For falling prey to Carmen’s wiles, José’s is jailed and stripped of his rank. But the girl isn’t heartless. Moved by José’s sacrifice, Carmen takes José as a lover. That is until Escamillo, a famous bullfighter, enters.

The pared down plot of Peter Brook‘s LA TRAGEDIE … is perfect for Opera in the Heights’ Lambert Hall. Since the opera focuses exclusively on the love rectangle of Don José, Micaëla, Carmen, and Escamillo, it sets the stage for in-depth character exploration. The production demands are modest. LA TRAGEDIE requires minimal orchestra and has only four principles. And thanks to Brook’s zen-like focus, it has the advantage of brevity. But it still lacks the magic and richness of Georges Bizet‘s CARMEN. At times the music is messy and discordant and, amazingly, the 82 minute opera felt just as long as any two to three hour production.

However, if you combine all that is good about Brook’s LA TRAGEDIE DE CARMEN with the talented cast (I was audience to the Emerald cast) and crew of the Opera in the Heights production (the Picasso-inspired set by Jodi Bobrovsky is as bewitching as the opera’s title character), you have a good time on your hands. OH’s production is guided by Lynda Keith McKnight and conducted by Dr. Eiki Isomura.

Soprano Lisa Borik’s performance as chin up, nose in the air Micaëla is powerful and penetrating. She meets and exceeds expectations in “Je dis, que rien ne m’epouvante (I am not afraid),” and she is a sight for sore eyes for both the audience and Don José each time she appears.

Tenor José Daniel Mojica has noteworthy acting chops, which are exemplified throughout the opera and especially in the famous “Flower Song.” His note-perfect acting is only in addition to his noteworthy vocals. Emotive singing and acting create a moving and persuasive moment for, if not Carmen, the audience. Truly, Mojica is a capstone of the production, but he has a leg up. He was blessed with the wonderfully maniacal, possessive and somewhat psychotic character Don José. Don José is where Brook succeeds. José is not a man at the mercy of fate. He is at the mercy of his own actions and psychosis.

Baritone Jared Guest is swoon-worthy as Escamillo during “Votre toast, je peux vous le rendre (Toreador Song).” He and Mezzo-Soprano Briana Hunter (Carmen) create beautiful music together. And Bass-Baritone Aidan Smerud provides just the right amount of comic relief as bar owner Lilas Pastia.

While Hunter has plenty of chemistry with Guest, she has almost none with Mojica. Her interpretation of “L’amour est un oiseau rebelle (Habanera)” is not nearly as hot as its masculinized namesake. Her movements are wooden and unconvincing. Albeit, these issues can be laid at Brook’s feet. It is difficult for Hunter to be a seductress when she is seducing one man with very little character motivation. In Bizet’s CARMEN, there are several men for Carmen to engage with, which allows her to show the range of her seduction techniques. Hunter does not have the luxury here.

This speculation holds more water as the opera progresses. Hunter is convincing as a seductress in “Seguidilla.” You can see how a weak-willed man could ruin his life obsessing over her, and her scenes with Jared Guest’s Escamillo possess the heat and sultriness necessary for any iteration of CARMEN.

However, Hunter micromanages her voice. By this I mean she seems to be overly concerned with the placement of the sound when she sings. This leaves her sitting and sounding pretty, but it also puts a wall between her and the audience. Her best moments are when she must relinquish control. For example, when she has difficult movement, such as the skipping in “Chanson Bohème,” her voice cuts through the orchestra and resounds. It is marvelous to witness, but I wanted more. This does not overshadow the beauty of her voice or her considerable range and flexibility, for she is carefree, fluid and, well, bohemian in “Chanson Bohème.”

I’d meet her at Lilas Pastia’s.

To see the original review, click HERE.