Carmen doesn't quite commit at Lyric Opera of Kansas CityReview
Lyric Opera of Kansas City opened their season with the classic opera Carmen. Rising star Ginger Costa-Jackson sang the title character with enthusiasm and energy, opposite Eric Fennell as Don José and Robert Mellon as Escamillo. Mellon’s voice rang through the Kauffman Center with ease, and Andrea Carroll sang a sweet Micaëla, and she had a shimmering luxurious sound.
I always find the character of Micaëla an interesting thread in the Carmen tapestry. She is the foil of Carmen, but ultimately pursues a man who just tolerates her, if anything. (Which, with the patriarchy of the time it is set in, is an inherently “unlady-like” thing to do.) “José, je vous le rends, comme je l’ai promis” (“José, I return it to you, as promised”) saw Micaëla give him a less-than-motherly kiss. And at the end of the scene, he returns her affection with a chaste kiss on the forehead which was met with laughs from the audience.
Carmen is part of the operatic ABC’s, and let’s face it – Bizet got the recipe right. But I forgot how fast the drama develops in the first act. I wasn’t sensing enough tension during “Près des remparts de Séville” between Carmen and Don José. I think that Carmen is, of course, a master of seduction, and José needs to protest too much, have real condescension towards her to cover his attraction. I didn’t quite get that in the pivotal first scene.
I wasn’t sure where Jackson’s interpretation lands on the scale of “bad girl”, which was the main tag the company used in advertisements. On one hand, there was an impressively choreographed fight in the beginning between Carmen and another factory girl, where we saw Carmen’s aggression. But, I didn’t feel that kind of aggression was ever pointed at José. She seemed contrite towards her former lover in the final scene. I don’t think Carmen in anyway deserves being murdered by José, but I didn’t see enough hatred and disgust from her in the final scene. I wanted more!
In the same token, Fennell came onto the stage for the final scene with an eerie stillness, but didn’t fully get out of that stillness to commit a crime of passion. Perhaps it was a dramatic approach by director Anna Maria Bruzzese, for José to emphasize his undoing. Jackson’s death was grotesque and gripping, with Fennell stabbing her once, then again and picking her up as he forced the knife under her ribs. Jackson screamed and then did at least five bone chilling and measured gasps and gurgles. A very memorable moment.
The Frasquita and Mercédès were sung by Resident Artists Krista Renée Pape and Aubrey Odle respectively. Each were charismatic and fun to watch. Pape’s high notes were clearly heard through the ensembles in act two. Unfortunately the couple next to me were talking loudly through the quintet, so I missed one of my favorite spots in the piece. (I’ll save my opinions on concert etiquette for another article…) Resident Artist Luke Harnish sang Zuniga. The Kansas City Symphony was led on the podium by Roberto Kalb. Post-pandemic (though still dodging variants), it was exciting to see a full stage with the chorus and children’s chorus.