Tag: Henri Meilhac
Exquisite performances make a restless ‘Carmen’ shine
|Lyric Opera presents|
|Composed by Georges Bizet
Directed by Henry Silverstien
Music directed by Alain Altinoglu
at Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker (map)
through March 27 | tickets: $38-$227 | more info
Reviewed by Barry Eitel
Even though Georges Bizet’s Carmen spawned some of the most recognizable melodies in classical music, it was a complete flop when it premiered in 1875, as critics pronounced it immoral even before it opened. Bizet died soon afterwards, never knowing his enduring popularity. Although considered an “opera comique,” the sensual and tragic love story pretty much murdered the style. The initial run almost bankrupted Paris’ Opera Comique, but Carmen’s influence went much further. The commercially viable, family friendly, yet artistically vapid form of the opera comique was made obsolete by Bizet’s genre-bending themes.
A straightforward, traditional production, Lyric Opera’s Carmen is simple (or at least as simple as the Lyric gets) and deeply passionate. The focus is on the layered characters of the piece, none of whom is solidly villain or hero—they’re all just human beings. The story, loosely based on a novella by Prosper Merimee, eschews melodrama for moral complexity. Under the levelheaded direction of Henry Silverstein, this story of love—requited and otherwise—remains explosive. Even after nearly four hours of arias, I found myself with plenty to mull over on the way home.
In a Seville filled with soldiers, romance, and pretty girls, Carmen holds the record for most heads turned. She’s a poor gypsy girl, but rich in passion and independence, loving whomever she pleases. Don Jose, a lowly corporal, is smitten by her charms, and Carmen fancies the soldier, too. He even goes to jail for two months, charged with abetting her escape when she is arrested for some local trouble. After his stint in prison, Don Jose gets a little clingy. His attempts to control her does not sit well with the fiery gypsy, who dumps the obsessed lover. Like most stories that start off like this, you can probably guess the ending—homicide, followed by instant regret. In operas, domestic disputes always end bloodier than in reality.
The success or failure of this show depends on the quality of the mezzo-soprano playing Carmen. Due to some medical issues, Katharine Goeldner took over for Kate Aldrich for all of the October dates. I can’t attest to how Aldrich would have performed the role, but Goeldner was delightful. As Bizet’s famous flirt, she’s vivacious and quick. I understand Don Jose’s desire to lock that down. While usually exuding mounds of charm, Goeldner can also key into Carmen’s vicious and irrational side. She has a proto-feminist vision of gender equality, awesome—but she also harbors some wacky, romantic notions, like forcing Jose to desert the army to be with her. Goeldner makes all these layers clear. Her singing was exquisite, especially her “Habanera,” where she coquettishly discloses her thesis on free love (with a wink).
Flown in from South Korea, Yonghoon Lee nuances his portrayal of Don Jose with plenty of lovelorn stares and conflicted frowns. He doesn’t match the intense passion of Goeldner in his acting performance, but he still presents a hefty challenge. He also struggles with externalizing Jose’s rage well; sometimes the character’s jealousy comes off as awkward, or just plain silly.
Penned by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halevy, the libretto could be better shaped. There are some throwbacks to the opera comique style that are unnecessary, especially in the first act. For example, there is a long number where a pack of children rush on stage and sing about imitating the army. Still can’t figure out a point to that one, besides “who doesn’t love to see kids on stage?”
The final five minutes are breathtaking, a perfect, wretched harmony of sound, image, and content. Out of sight, the chorus faintly sings the praises of a bullfighter, interspersed by the final encounter between Carmen and Don Jose, basked in blood-red light and showered with rose petals. It’s a transcendent moment, one that makes the previous three acts worthwhile.
Shopping around for a second husband can be so much fun!
The Lyric Opera of Chicago presents:
The Merry Widow
Libretto by Viktor León and Leon Stein
Based on Henri Meilhac’s comedy “L’attache’ d’ambassade”
English lyrics and dialogue by Sheldon Harnick
Conducted by Emmanuel Villaume
Stage directed by Gary Griffin
Thru January 16th
Review by Katy Walsh
Boy loves girl. Family won’t let him marry her because she’s penniless. She marries another and becomes a wealthy widow. Boy still loves girl. Now, his country wants him to marry her because she has 20 million francs. Girl loves boy but fears he loves her for her money. Add in a cheating wife, French lover, overbearing Baron and dancing girls and the results are the Lyric Opera of Chicago presents The Merry Widow. Originally produced in German in 1905, The Merry Widow is sung in English as an operetta in three acts.
Arguably, an operetta basically stands for “opera lite.” Tastes great, less filling. With its origins in the 1800’s, an operetta introduced a less dramatic version of opera to audiences. Utilizing comedy, simpler plots and happier tunes, the operetta became the precursor to contemporary musicals. For diehard opera fans, an operetta is like drinking Miller Lite when you prefer a Guinness. For opera newbies, an operetta is like sipping your first beer to acquire a taste for hops. For all, The Merry Widow is a lively romantic comedy presented with all the grandeur and majesty as is the Lyric Opera hallmark.
Unlike most traditional operas, The Merry Widow has segments of spoken dialogue, dancing sequences and informal familiarity. Breaking the fourth wall, Roger Honeywell (Count Danilo Danilovich) emphasizes a joke by guffawing with the audience. Honeywell, along with Jeff Dumas (Njegus) and Dale Travis (Baron Mirko Zeta), set the playful mood with physical comedy. A particularly fun musical dance number, “Every Woman,” has several of the male cast members commiserating on how difficult women are. Later, it’s the ladies’ turn with dance hall girls performing the Can-Can, a line dance complete with pulled up skirts and leg shaking. Elizabeth Futral (Hanna Glawari) has the vibrant presence to carry the main title The Merry Widow. Although she captivates the audience with her soprano precision, there are moments for her and Honeywell where vocal subtlety is overwhelmed by the orchestra.
From the moment the curtain rises, the audience is treated to spectacular sets (Daniel Ostling). The first act is built around a magnificent staircase, several stories high. Later the scene at Maxim’s features a moving stage on stage within a bi-level dance hall. The costumes (David Burke and Mara Blumenfeld) range from early 1900 elegant aristocrat to vibrant gawdy Can-Can dancer. Visually appealing and lighthearted amusing, this production shows how much fun shopping around for a second husband can be.