San Francisco Opera’s “Carmen”─two mezzos, Kendall Gladen and Anita Rachvelishvili, will there be any heat?
Last Sunday afternoon’s opening of Bizet’s Carmen at San Francisco Opera brought high hopes with mezzo soprano Kendall Gladen as Carmen, a role the former Adler Fellow has played to great acclaim at leading opera houses. The blasé performance was buoyed immensely by Nicola Luisotti’s passionate conducting─rousing, brisk, clear, fresh and attenuated with marvelous aplomb─but when the conductor generates more heat than the lead singer, and the two leading men─ Brazilian tenor Thiago Arancam (as army corporal Don José) and Brazilian baritone Paulo Szot (as bullfighter Escamillo)─were not hitting their strides, one can only hope that mezzo number two, Anita Rachvelishvili (rotch-vell-esh-VEEL-ee), who steps in this week, will bring some fire to the stage.
Aside from Luisotti’s marvelous conducting, the vocal highpoints were the children’s chorus and the San Francisco Opera chorus, both singing very well. Soprano Sara Gartland, a current Adler Fellow, was touching as Micaëla, especially in her moving Act I duet with Don José though her voice at times seemed almost too powerful for the role. Carmen’s sidekicks Susannah Biller as Frasquita and Cybele Gouverneur as Mercédès also added some pizzazz. Wayne Tigges as Zuniga, and Timothy Mix as La Dancaïre and Daniel Montenegro as Le Remendado sang their minor roles with aplomb and proficiency. José Maria Condemi’s restaging of Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s 1981 production was also effective. The handsome sets were designed in sumptuous earthen hues evoking 19th century Seville and provided an excellent backdrop for the red-hot passion that should have unfolded onstage. Next week, another mezzo-soprano, Tbilisi-born Anita Rachvelishvili, also experienced in the role and very much looking the part, steps forward as Carmen. Let’s hope she brings some fire to our beloved aria, ”Habanera,” and makes that flower she tosses at Don José in Act I wilt, as should he. Carmen is all about seduction–through music, voice, and dance and bodies exuding and responding to passion. If we aren’t seduced, it’s just not Carmen.
Details: Carmen is at the War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco. There are eight remaining performances: Tuesday, 11/15/2011, at 8 p.m with Anita Rachvelishvili; Thursday, 11/17/2011, at 7:30 p.m. with Anita Rachvelishvili; Sunday, 11/20/2011, at 2 p.m. with Anita Rachvelishvili; Wednesday, 11/23/2011, at 7:30 p.m with Anita Rachvelishvili; Saturday, 11/26/2011, at 8 p.m; Tuesday, 11/29/2011, at 7:30 p.m; Friday December 2, 2011. Tickets are $29 to $330. Information: www.sfopera.com.