In review: Carmen at Nashville Opera
Nashville Opera closed its four-show, 2016-2017 season with Bizet's Carmen. Director John Hoomes's decision to keep a mostly traditional treatment of the production gave the musicians the space to let Bizet's music speak for itself. While the largely talented singers seized that opportunity, it seemed – in some cases – that said space allowed the focus to come off the characters themselves.
The story is all too familiar: girl meets boy, girl loves boy, when girl changes her mind...boy goes bananas. Carmen is a complicated role that requires both vocal dexterity and superior interpretive choices. Fortunately for us, Nashville Opera's Carmen, Ginger Costa-Jackson, goes above and beyond those requirements. Ms. Costa-Jackson, a native of Italy who has made a name for herself singing the titular role, was enchanting as Carmen: her captivating mezzo voice was round, resonant, and vibrant. Listening to her reminds me of bowling a strike – thrilling and satisfying. Her impressive vocal (and physical!) agility and electrifying characterization made her an utmost pleasure to watch – and remained constant even throughout her taxing stage direction (her hands were bound, she jumped triumphantly up on a table, sang perfectly a difficult passage of her aria, and effectively seduced Don José – it was pretty amazing), and I want more.
Ms. Costa-Jackson's opposite, Noah Stewart as Don José, was my favorite tenor of Nashville Opera's season. He sounds like a tenor with the soul of a baritone – and the two were a perfect match, vocally. His voice was full and smooth, like an extra serving of caramel sauce on a sundae, and his high notes remained edgeless. I would have liked him to also match Ms. Costa-Jackson interpretively; however, Mr. Stewart's physical depiction was not as dynamic.
Laura Wilde's Micaëla provided the ubiquitous contrast to Carmen. Her very bright and soothing soprano offered lightness in a way that goes beyond fach – she actually leans pretty dramatic. Her extremely clear tone mixed with warm color was a delight, as was the earnestness Ms. Wilde brought to Micaëla. Baritone Edward Parks was a delightfully smarmy Escamillo, and did justice to Carmen's most recognizable melody. His robust voice and engaging stage presence brought welcome levity to a pretty dark show.
The smattering of comprimario roles, Zuniga (Jeffrey Williams), Frasquita (Courtney Ruckman), Mercédès (Melisa Bonetti), Remendado (Zachary Devin), and Moralès/Dancaïro (Makoto Winkler) gave Nashville Opera's Mary Ragland Young Artists a fun chance to excel in a fine production. The young singers largely did fine work (though at times, a bit clunky) – and my favorites of the bunch were Ms. Ruckman and Ms. Bonetti as Carmen's BFFs. We remember the two from Three Way, and I liked seeing them in starkly different roles.
Nashville Opera's Carmen was a good production – though, it seems Mr. Hoomes greatly prefers to stage and produce more modern operas, and excels at doing so. While the direction played a bit uninspired, the quality singers were a welcome distraction. I look forward to their 2017-2018 season announcement.