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Instant Karma Carmen

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Patricia Bardon as Carmen (Photos: Robert Millard)

LA Opera has launched its 2013/2014 season with a glorious Carmen. Experiencing the eye-catching sets and costumes, the breathtaking mass spectacle and dramatic story and, above all, Georges Bizet’s entrancing, mellifluous music, aficionados might briefly feel what John Lennon called “instant karma.” When in Act I Irish mezzo-soprano Patricia Bardon as Carmen sings her “Habanera” aria in a Seville square or Italian bass-baritone Ildebrando D’Arcangelo as the bullfighter Escamillo performs Act II’s rousing “Toreador Song” in Lillas Pastia’s tavern, spectators may have a transcendental sense that there’s no better place to be in the entire universe at that moment than in his/her seat at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

This could impart a rapturous sensibility of well-being, that all’s well with the world -- but such is not so with the title character (played by Serbian mezzo-soprano Milena Kitic on September 28). Carmencita, Spain’s sultry cigarette factory girl, is a sensuous free spirit, one of the original femme fatales, who lives and loves as she pleases. The high spirited Carmen perfectly expresses her philosophy in the lilting “Habanera” singing: “Love is a rebellious bird nobody can tame.” But in patriarchal 19th century Spain this sets Carmen, with her “gypsy” mentality, on a collision course with her soldier lover Don Jose (tenor Brandon Jovanovich alternates in the role with Brazilian Thiago Arancom, who plays the part on October 1 and 4) and the dashing toreador Escamillo (baritone Dwayne Croft plays the role September 28), who vie for the enticing Carmen’s affections. Like Jezebel, Juliet and an endless number of film noir dolls, the coquettish Carmen must be punished by the patriarchy for daring to enjoy sex.

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Dwyane Croft and Milena Kitic

The current rendition of this perennial favorite is similar to LA Opera’s 2008 Carmen production by Emilio Sagi, reprising the period costumes by designer Jesus del Pozo, choreography (including some stirring, stylized flamenco numbers, castanets and all) by Nuria Castejon and bravura sets designed by Gerardo Trotti. The latter include a stunning Seville plaza, Lillas Pastia’s watering hole, a mountain set (perhaps in the Pyrenees) and the exterior of a bullfighting ring. There Carmen meets her destiny, but a sharp eyed observer might note that the ending of the previous production is, perhaps, significantly different than in the current version. Whereas in 2008 Carmen seemed to seal her fate by her own hand, in the 2013 rendition it seems to be carried out by another.

The non-traditional multi-culti casting of this opera composed by Bizet in 1875 with a libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halevy, based on Prosper Merimee’s novel that takes place in 1820-ish Spain includes the aptly named South African soprano Pretty Yende as Micaela (Kentuckian Amanda Woodbury tackles the role Sept. 28) and South Korean soprano Hae Ji Chang as Frasquita, one of Carmen’s cohorts. When he entered the orchestra pit to wield the baton maestro Placido Domingo was met with spontaneous ovations by the genuinely adoring crowd (Grant Gershon alternates as conductor on Sept. 26 and 28 and Oct. 4; he is also the show’s chorus master). Trevere Ross expertly directs the spectacle, which at times includes the tricky mise-en-scene of 60-ish performers moving onstage at once.

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Patricia Bardon, Have Ji Chang, and Cassandra Zoe

A number of senoritas in the audience wore red gowns and shawls to pay homage to their operatic heroine, the “scarlet lady.” Although set in Spain, Carmen is actually sung in French -- which may be appropriate, as this is sometimes called “the language of lovers.” Carmen has four acts and is more than three hours long, with two intermissions. Plenty of time for theatergoers to willingly suspend their disbelief and ascend to opera heaven. Judging by this splendid premiere, Angelino opera fans are in for a stellar season. Instant Carmen’s gonna get you, as LA Opera shines on!

Ed Rampell

[dc]C[/dc]armen is being performed Thursday Sept. 26, Saturday Sept. 28 and, Tuesday Oct. 1, Friday Oct. 4 at 7:30 p.m. and on Sunday, Sept. 29 and Oct. 6 at 2:00 p.m. by LA Opera at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave. For more info: (213)972-8001; www.laopera.com.

 Ed Rampell

Thursday, 26 September 2013

The new book co-authored by L.A.-based reviewer Ed Rampell, "The Hawaii Movie and Television Book", published by Honolulu's Mutual Publishing, drops Nov. 20.