Miami Lyric Opera averts potential disaster with season-opening “Carmen”

By David Fleshler

Erica Papillion-Posey and James Charles Taylor in Miami Lyric Opera’s “Carmen” Saturday night at the Colony Theater. Photo: Daniel Fernandez

The tenor called in sick, and the English translations above the stage vanished in Act 1, yet the show went on Saturday at Miami Lyric Opera’s production of Carmen.

The company opened its 9th season at Miami Beach’s Colony Theater with Bizet’s masterpiece and an extra unplanned element of genuine drama. Founder and artistic director Raffaele Cardone was handed a last-minute disaster when the tenor Jorge Pita said he was too sick to go on stage. Cardone found a replacement, James Charles Taylor, who barely made it in from Washington, D.C.,  where flights were delayed by snow. Taylor went on stage Saturday night without a rehearsal.

As Don José, the hapless corporal caught up in the seductress Carmen’s web, Taylor got through the evening, including two knife scenes without killing anyone he wasn’t supposed to. No one could expect a perfect, or even a particularly polished performance under the dire circumstances. He hit some raspy high notes and his Flower Song lacked the passion and energy to put it over.

Yet he could sing at times with a sweet-toned legato, and despite having to get through the opera without a rehearsal he brought a surprising amount of fire and drama to his furious Act 3 farewell to Carmen and the opera’s violent finale. In an opera without heroes, there was one on stage Saturday night.

In the title role, the mezzo-soprano Erica Papillion-Posey captured Carmen’s slinky sexiness, radiating allure and trouble without the diva-like overacting that sometimes attends the role. She had the vocal power to sing a soft, seductive Habanera in a hall-filling, rounded voice, lingering over the phrases as the men in the square watched. She snapped off the Spanish-style ornaments of the Seguidilla, and she was especially compelling in the lower register, where Carmen’s sultriness comes through, even as she’s reading her dark fate in the cards.

As the toreador Escamillo, 19th-century Seville’s version of the star quarterback, the baritone Oscar Martinez seized the stage with the easy confidence of a celebrity who doesn’t have to strain for attention. Although he was sometimes drowned out by the orchestra in the Toreador Song, his intense, focused voice made the aria the show-stopper it should be. As Micaëla, the nice girl who was everything Carmen was not, Roseanne Ackerley was too strident, with a vibrato so wide that it was hard to follow the melody.

The chorus didn’t have its best outing in this performance. They were ragged in the opening scene, from the male voices musing on the comings and goings in the square to the women of the cigarette factory. The children’s chorus did better, singing with a rhythmically tight, if tonally wayward, manner, with precise movements on stage.

There were some intonation meltdowns, particularly as the smugglers carried their wares through the mountains, although this may have been equally the problem of the orchestra, conducted by Jeffrey Eckstein. Violins were out of tune throughout much of the performance. One bright spot was the fine playing of principal flute Robert Billington, who gave a warm and evocative account of the long Entr’acte melody leading into Act 3.

As Zuniga, the bass Diego Baner sounded a bit worn, but the Moralès of Enrique Estrada was burly and formidable. As Carmen’s friends Mercédès and Frasquita, Emilia Acon and Daisy Su made a lively pair as they read their futures in the cards.

Before the opera, Cardone spoke briefly about the company’s achievements in the past nine years—mounting 19 productions, putting on a total of 75 performances and providing the chance for young singers to take on the leading roles they wouldn’t get at the bigger houses. One alumnus, he said proudly, just appeared in Parsifal at the Metropolitan Opera, singing a small role, but still it was the Met.

Over the years the company has presented some surprisingly good singers in productions that show a respect for the composer’s intentions that’s not always in evidence at larger companies. After repeating Carmen next month, the company in July will mount productions of Puccini’s rarely heard short operas Il Tabarro and Gianni Schicchi.

Miami Lyric Opera will repeat its production of Carmen April 6 -7 at the Olympia Theater in downtown Miami.; 305-372-0925

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3 Responses to “Miami Lyric Opera averts potential disaster with season-opening “Carmen””

  1. Posted Mar 12, 2013 at 3:47 pm by Good job!

    Actually, James Taylor did get one dress rehearsal, and he had sung the role with MLO alongside the same Carmen in January, so it’s not like he went in completely cold. That being said, he had a challenge to overcome and did a great job under the circumstances.

  2. Posted Mar 13, 2013 at 2:10 pm by Accurate review

    This review was amazingly accurate. Although I think Taylor did a good Cting job and has a nice voice, he did miss those notes offstage. But the chorus was what was appalling. With so many good young voices in the Miami area, you’d think they could recruit better singers. And the orchestra sounded like a high school performance. I know this group is trying, but, please do an outreach to some of the better music teachers or schools. We have them in Miami. Use their talent.

  3. Posted Jul 13, 2013 at 4:51 pm by Antonella Riccordi

    I have been following on and off the performances and hard work and would like to remind those that criticizes that without economical support/limited budget companies like this can not recruit singers and musicians at their leisure.
    WIth the limited budget and staff Maestro Cardone is doing a job that very few could accomplish and provides opportunities to those that want to succeed in this art and improve. From an outsider observer, I am actually very surprised of the accomplishments under the circumstances and inspired by what drives this company…the love for the opera.

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