Peter Brook’s The Tragedy of Carmen
Who: Syracuse Opera
Where: 411 Montgomery St., Syracuse, NY
When: Through October 20th
Review by: Alejandra Acuña
Syracuse Opera’s production of Peter Brook’s The Tragedy of Carmen is scarlet with lust, but uses cliché foreshadowing to tell the audience what it already knows… that it is, in fact a tragedy.
First of all, what a Carmen.
The torturously tempting portrayal of female lead Carmen (Ola Rafalo) overpowered the theater from the first moment light hits her impeccable beauty. She is rolling cigars with her dress exposing her bare thigh, a surface that she uses to slowly give the cigar its cylindrically implicit shape.
She is a gypsy with serpentine belly dancing that comments on women’s manipulative power over men through sexuality.
The Tragedy of Carmen is an adaptation of the approximately three-hour opera Carmen by George Bizet. The original text, however, was written by male Frenchmen Prosper Mérimée in 1845 and was intended for primarily educated white men, since the feminine sex was not educated or deemed an equal in society.
The story’s foundation is of choice, between man’s desire and duty. The white to Carmen’s black is innocent town girl Micaela (Colleen Daly), who would make a perfect wife to Don Jose (Brent Reiley Turner), who loses all his power after being mesmerized by Carmen’s shameless sexuality. Carmen, however, finds herself a famous matador Escamillo (Wes Mason) and quickly rejects the townie leaving him in a frustrated despair.
Set in the city of Seville, Spain, the French opera depicts the heartbreak and desire of a promiscuous gypsy, an unsatisfied village boy, an enamored village girl, and self-infatuation of a bullfighter. Carmen is not only responsible for her fate, but also for the domino effect that locks the storyline into a helpless demise.
A full orchestra did not play the beautiful melodies, but individual instruments were selected for each character’s sound, an alteration from the original Carmen envisioned by conductor Douglas Frost. This was a welcome addition to the intimate venue, which seated 450, and made every moment powerful and dramatic.
There was, however, a break in the elegant melodies that disconnected the audience from the successful illusion. The orchestra was replaced by a recording and was accompanied with the only projections in the whole production. This was a disconnected event that stood out like a sore thumb.
The combination of photographic slides with recorded music attempted to depict the bullfighter’s nightmare while he and Carmen slept in bed on the stage. This however, was not successful but utterly distracting, especially when the distraction is about the least important of the four main characters.
It is evident that this is a shortened version of a grander production. That is not to say that it was not a good, it was, but there was a certain depth missing to the characters and a constant push forward that made the storyline rushed.
A handful of clichés scattered here and there were used to quickly get a point across. For example, Carmen is going to die… it is her tragedy as the altered title of the opera suggests. It felt exaggerated when she dealt tarot cards and kneeled on the floor with a mantilla on her head, singing about fate.
Don Jose had a bloody shirt with a scarlet handprint on his chest branding him a killer. The aforementioned bullfighters scene can also be added to the array of clichés with the predictable images of a bull’s fight against a matador in the sand. We get it. We’re in Spain, and he’s scared.
Regardless, director Jeffery Buchanan and his team have created an unmistakably arousing night for Syracuse opera lovers. Fortunately, the tension, sexuality and simple rendition in The Tragedy of Carmen made the opera’s famous crime of passion a joy to watch. There was not a single weak performance in the show. Both the elegant acting, and pristine vocals overlapped the hiccups of artistic vision here and there.