A Carmen Cast to Strength: Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Revival

The principals are assuming their roles for the first time at
Lyric, and the conductor Alain Altinoglu makes his house debut in these
performances. Katherine Goeldner fits exceptionally well into the production as
a dramatically convincing and vocally assured Carmen. Yonghoon Lee projects his
alternately confused and devoted emotional state in a forthright depiction of
Don JosÈ. Elaine Alvarez and Kyle Ketelsen make strong impressions as MicaÎla
and Escamillo respectively. A well chosen supporting cast from the Ryan Opera
Center fulfills the lyrical and dramatic needs of this colorful panorama which
ultimately ends in tragedy.

In his approach to the overture Altinoglu encouraged a light touch with
effective, percussive elements used to give structural shape. As the curtain
rises on a mixture of pale greys and browns — bathed here in a bright, summery
light — the collected soldiers laze about until MichaÎla enters in search of
Don JosÈ. MoralËs leads the men in playful banter with the shy woman: here Paul
La Rosa uses his warm, lyrical baritone to good effect as a MoralËs whose
urging at first assures, then repels MicaÎla. In the latter role Ms. Alvarez
applies vibrato and liquid notes sensitively to express the feelings she wishes
to communicate when she finally locates JosÈ. At his entrance Mr. Lee strikes a
disciplined pose as both soldier and compatriot to the maiden who has come to
search for him. Only gradually during this and the following act does Mr.
Lee’s persona show the descent into a world ruled by passion, once he
encounters and becomes obsessed with Carmen. As the tempting femme
Katherine Goeldner performs her two well-known arias from Act I as a natural
extension of the character’s personality. At the words “prends
garde” (“beware”), Goeldner sings forte with a
convincing dramatic and vocal poise, following this with piano lines that
delineate further her seductive and playful attitude. When she repeats her
warning, the line is sufficiently varied to command the attention of a
transfixed Don JosÈ, with Goeldner concluding on a dramatic top note. As the
stage is then transformed by red illumination, JosÈ’s infatuation is —
in this production — perhaps all too pointedly revealed to the audience. Ms.
Goeldner’s seguidilla later in Act I is sung with equal
assurance and admirable attention to linear detail. Despite the appeals so
fervently delivered by the MicaÎla of Ms. Alvarez, JosÈ is ultimately
distracted to the point of assisting in Carmen’s escape.

The second and following acts of Lyric Opera’s Carmen make
use of a set modified from the first act with altered lighting and effective
placement of props. As Frasquita and MercÈdËs Jennifer Jakob and Emily Fons are
exuberant foils to Goeldner’s Carmen, all three giving a sultry
impression as they sing and cavort in ensembles. Perhaps most striking in this
and subsequent acts is the image created for Escamillo by Kyle Ketelsen. His
“Votre Toast” [(“Your toast”), Toreador Song] is a
model of declamation, extended lyrical line, and an even projection from secure
bass notes to a ringing, exciting top. Mr. Ketelsen’s experience in this
role is further evident in the dramatic, convincing ease with which he projects
both swagger and the need for adulation. As the rival for Carmen’s
interest Mr. Lee soon pays what he presumes to be a brief visit to the gypsy
camp. In his aria “La fleur que tu m’avais jetÈe” (“The
flower which you threw to me”) Lee invests piano notes with
sincerity and tenderness, yet the descriptive and dramatic portions of the aria
show an overuse of forte singing. His revised commitment to the camp
of smugglers is complete until MicaÎla returns to seek him out in the third
act. Ms. Alvarez gives an accomplished performance of MicaÎla’s
prayer-like aria in Act III, her tendency to shade lyrical phrases alternating
touchingly with urgent pleas for divine help. Again, it is the Toreador whose
melody ends the act and prepares the audience for a final scene of celebration
and violence. In that last, brief act Mr. Lee’s desperate tone as Don
JosÈ are appropriate to his character’s mental state, something which
Goeldner’s Carmen refuses to take seriously until, tragically, too

Salvatore Calomino

image_description=Katharine Goeldner as Carmen and Yonghoon Lee as Don JosÈ [Photo by Dan Rest courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago]
product_title=Georges Bizet: Carmen
product_by=Carmen: Katharine Goeldner; Don JosÈ: Yonghoon Lee; MicaÎla: Elaine Alvarez; Escamillo: Kyle Ketelsen; Zuniga: Craig Irvin; Frasquita: Jennifer Jakob; MercÈdËs: Emily Fons; DancaÔre: Paul Scholten; Remendado: RenÈ Barbera; MoralËs: Paul La Rosa. Chicago Children’s Chorus. Josephine Lee: Artistic Director. Alain Altinoglu: Conductor. Harry Silverstein: Stage Director. Robin Don: Set Designer. Robert Perdziola: Costume Designer. Jason Brown: Lighting Designer. Chorus Master: Donald Nally. Choreographer & Ballet Mistress: August Tye.
product_id=Above: Katharine Goeldner as Carmen and Yonghoon Lee as Don JosÈ [Photo by Dan Rest courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago]