Miami Lyric Opera marks 20 years with a richly dramatic “Carmen”

By Inesa Gegprifti

Francesca Aguado stars in the title role of Bizet’s Carmen at Miami Lyric Opera.

Miami Lyric Opera is celebrating its 20th anniversary this season, and on Saturday evening the hardy company took the stage at South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center with Georges Bizet’s Carmen.

Bizet was convinced that his opera was a failure after the critical reception at its premiere in March of 1875. Carmen’s libretto may have been too realistic in its depiction of folk life in Seville, perhaps too provocative in its musical exoticism, or maybe too harsh in its refusal to reward virtue at the end. 

What the libretto and music provide though, is a tangible tale of a strong, albeit at times manipulative woman whose charms madden the men in her life. To take the deepest fall and ultimately take her life as well, is corporal Don José whose blinding love for Carmen can’t allow her to be with anyone else. 

Bizet’s The music flirts, soars, and sashays just like the characters of the story. Bizet died a few months after the premiere, unaware of the fame that his opéra-comique would gain in the centuries to come.

MLO’s production featured a mix of young and more experienced singers. Soloists Philip Alongi as Don José and Francesca Aguado as Carmen shined in their roles with vocal prowess and stage presence. Their chemistry on stage was palpable and their musical dialogues were projected with a wonderful vocal blend.

Mezzo-soprano Aguado inhabited Carmen’s persona with great ease from her first moment on stage with “L’amour est un oiseau rebelle.” Her tone was dark and opulent, fitting the character’s seductive nature. Aguado had an excellent grasp of Carmen’s temperamental nature, obvious in her inflection of the phrases and spinning of the ornate melodies. She did not shy away from emphasizing the lower, spoken part of her register, giving the delivery more immediacy and intensity.

Tenor Alongi was a standout throughout the performance. His assimilation of the role’s emotional tension laid the foundation for the character’s development. He was consistently accurate with a supported, powerful, and rich tone. An engaging performer, Alongi drew the audience in with his falsettos when convincing Carmen of his love and had them hooked with excitement in the high sustained notes. His transparent, yet at times desperate tone was reminiscent of a tenor in the vein of Italian verismo. Alongi captured Don José’s inner struggle and provided beautiful timbral contrast, especially in “La fleur que tu m’avais jetée” (Act II) and the final scene.

In the roles of Micaëla and Escamillo were soprano Nathalie Avila and baritone Oscar Martinez. Avila’s tone may have been slightly too forward for the sweet and naïve Micaëla, but she displayed good control of the nuances of the phrases and believable characterization. Martinez, as the toreador, provided solid stage presence, however his diction and melodic contouring left much to be desired.

A well-prepared number was the smuggler’s quintet “Nous avons en tête une affaire” from Act II, a moment in the plot which has Carmen pushing Don José to choose between his love for her and his duty as soldier. Aguado, joined by sopranos Elizabeth DiFronzo (Mercédès) and Samantha Riling-Lopez (Frasquita), tenor Rolando Valdez (Remendado), and baritone Gabriel Menendez (Dancaire) handled the quick passages and playful ensemble singing with conviction.

The MLO orchestra, under the baton of long-time collaborator, conductor Jeffrey Eckstein, provided good support for the singers. Eckstein was deliberate in his direction, although the orchestra has repeated pitchy entrances and unclear articulation. While enthusiastic, the chorus numbers often lacked tone quality and blend, as well as synchronization.

A welcome addition to this production were two flamenco dancers Jose Junco and Cristina Masdueño, whose spotlighted numbers at the tavern and in front of the bull-fighting arena brought a fresh and authentic vibe. They exuded vibrancy and flair through the rhythmic inflections of the castanets and heel-tapping steps. The well-matched duo mirrored the impassioned yet tortured relationships of Carmen her suitors.

The stage design was a highlight of this sold-out performance with impressive scenery by Stivanello/Somani and effective lighting. The canvases, painted with great detail, created layers of Spanish architectural pieces with the mysterious mountain hideout in Act 3 adding dimensionality to the production.

Carmen will be repeated 4 p.m. Sunday at South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center. Miami Lyric Opera’s 20th Anniversary Gala Concert takes place on November 19. 

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Sun Sep 11, 2022
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