Theater Without Theatricality

As the lights in the theater dim, the audience’s eyes are drawn up to witness the extravagant crystal chandeliers rising in the air. The orchestra, with vigor and excitement, commences playing a well-known tune. In anticipation of a storyline as famous as the prelude itself, the audience expects to see characters that fully embody the tragic romance of Georges Bizet’s Carmen.

Unfortunately, not all of the actors at the Metropolitan Opera were able to meet the grandiose tower of expectations that stands over every rendition of this timeless classic.

As the curtain opens to the first act, the skeleton of an old cigarette factory rotates into view. Through the fence that stands before the lofty factory walls enters Micaela (played by Kate Royal). She asks the Spanish soldiers about Don Jose and the men lustfully encroach upon her.  With a strong and commanding voice, the officer Morales (played by Trever Scheunemann) pleads for her to stay with them. As he extends his arms to caress her waist, Micaela continues to superficially sing her part without any indication of fear. Where her acting lacks believability, Royal makes up for it with her astounding soprano voice. Especially magical is the moment when Micaela and Don Jose (played by Yonghoon Lee) sing a duet about Don’s mother and village. With romantic yet subtle gestures, the pair sings in a manner that is incredibly sweet and heartwarming. Answering after each of Michaela’s dynamic and perfectly enunciated phrases, Don Jose uses his highly controlled voice to sing of his love for his home. The two coo like enamored doves and complete the scene with a gentle kiss.

Done Jose and Michaela.
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Yonghoon Lee’s performance is characterized by powerful vocals and a commitment to his role, a combination that sets the bar high for the entire cast – including Anita Rachvelishvilli herself. The actress’ physical appearance coincides perfectly with that of her gypsy character Carmen. With her thick black curls swaying in the air and her dress tightly hugging her luscious figure, Carmen illustriously emerges from the opening in the stage. Though her presence initially demands overwhelming attention from both the surrounding characters and her audience, shortly her fellow actors are the only ones to remain entranced by her overly subtle movements. Playfully flinging water at the crazed soldiers and then gently caressing the surprised Don Jose, she seems more like a happy child than a seductive and authoritative woman. It seems as though Rachvelishvilli relies more on her appearance rather than her acting ability to create a believable character. It is these nuances that prevent the overall performance from reaching perfection. Carmen’s voice, contradicting her behavior, is grand and memorable, resonating within the theater.

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Though initially astounding, Carmen’s voice loses its magnitude during the course of the opera. During the middle of the second act, the heroin sings before the handsome bullfighter Escamillo (played by Kyle Ketelsen). Her voice wavers slightly and then gains volume and temerity with alarming speed, a change that extracts an immediate reaction from the smitten man. He proclaims his love to her, as it seems, because of her vocal improvement.

Like Carmen, the audience has reason to fall in and out of love with the production. With characters that are not as theatrical as one might expect, an emotional contagion seems to be missing. Still, Carmen continues to be a magnificent opera with its astounding acoustic qualities and dramatic storyline.


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