A sold-out house waited Saturday evening for the opening curtain of the Teatro Lirico D'Europa's "Carmen" at the Lied Center. The large company of nearly 40, accompanied by a full orchestra, held the stage for the next three hours, in a performance at times stimulating and at other times disappointing. Giorgio Lalov, who formed the company in 1988, is its artistic director, and Krassimir Topolov its able musical director.
The role of Carmen was sung by Kirstin Chavez, one of two Americans among the largely Bulgarian and Russian cast. Her silky mezzo-soprano was perfect for the role, and she looked the part of the fiery and sensuous gypsy, taking control of the stage in her opening "Habanera" scene as she slithered barefoot across the stage, flirting with one man after another before settling on Don Jose.
The stocky David Corman, an American and a Kansan to boot, performed as Don Jose, with less success than his compatriot. One of four tenors traveling with the company who play the role, he had an adequate voice but little stage presence. His enchantment with Carmen seemed more like a teenage crush than a soldier's passion, and he sang the Flower Song in Act II as a set piece: With its protestations of volcanic love, he never once glanced at or gestured toward the loved one.
Other principals enjoyed better success. The soprano Veselina Vasileva as MicaÃ»la, though a bit confined in her movements, sang the part impressively. Her performance in Act III's "Je dis que rien ne m'epouvante" was a high point, rocking the second balcony with high C's and concluding to the evening's most prolonged applause until curtain calls.
Igor Denisov, a veteran baritone with the St. Petersburg State Opera and the Opera Bolshoi, showed commanding stage presence as Escamillo. The smugglers Remendado and DancaÃire were played with vigor and warmth by Giorgio Dineff and Hristo Sarafov, and their Act II "Nous avons en tÃte une affaire" with Mercedes and Frasquita was clearly the evening's best ensemble performance. The young Liubov Metodieva, making her debut with the company as Frasquita, has a splendid soprano voice and evidently has a career before her.
Some in the audience felt that the production as a whole lacked energy, though perhaps that was due to a more mannered style than usual. The large choral numbers were musically pleasing but rather static in their presentation. The three-person flamenco numbers that opened Acts II and IV were described by the chorus in such terms as "frenzied" and "whirlwind," yet the dancers, while lithe and graceful, were more sedate than impassioned.
Costumes were colorful, with many-flounced dresses in plentiful supply. The stone and brick urban setting, lighted in warm earth tones, was quite satisfactory; the mountain scenes would have been more effective had the mountain backdrop not had gigantic wrinkles in it. The orchestra performed well, with especially nice work by bassoon, flute and harp. The subtitles, projected on a panel just beneath the proscenium arch, were rendered in lively colloquial English, and were a welcome addition, provoking audience laughter at such moments as Zuniga's " ... and get those women away from me" or the smugglers' "When it comes to cheating and stealing it's best to have the ladies along."
Though the production was not as uniform as some would have liked, an evening spent among the familiar melodies of this favorite opera, with so many good voices and a color-filled stage, is still an evening well spent.
Dean Bevan is professor emeritus of English at Baker University. He can be reached at email@example.com.