Amherst, En Garde: "Carmen"
By Florian Gargaillo (LA), Staff Writer
It’s not every day you get to see the performance of a full-blown opera at the College, which is why you will probably be very upset if you did not go see “Carmen” last Saturday night at Buckley Music Hall and now have to read an entire article detailing all the reasons why that was a terrible decision. “Carmen” was a one-night deal, so if you haven’t seen it, turn to the next article. If you have, then this will be an excuse for you to indulge in a little nostalgia.

The production — performed by both professional opera singers and students — thrived, in many ways, because it was a collaboration. Directed and produced by Professor Jenny Kallick and her students as part of Music 18 (“Creating Musical Drama”), the show was both an opportunity for the audience to hear professional singers and a chance for the orchestra and singers to learn from them and prove their own mettle. Both professionals and amateurs did handsomely Saturday night. The orchestra was impressive, as was the chorus, though the music did drown out the lyrics at one point or two in the second act. Nevertheless, their performance was terrific and clearly the product of hard work. The sets and costumes were not especially memorable, but, then again, the focus of the performance seemed far more aural than visual, and there were certainly lots of musical delights on display.

Among the male leads, Don José, (Hugo Vera of the Metropolitan Opera) and Escamillo (Anton Belov), fought it out for best voice while their characters battled for Carmen’s heart on stage. Vera, with his massive barrel of a chest and comical gestures throughout, had a broad, booming voice that made an interesting contrast with the darker, richer intonations of Belov. When the first act came to an end, I thought I preferred Vera, but by the end of the second act I was no longer sure. Most seemed to prefer Belov; call it a matter of personal taste.

The real surprise, however, came from the female leads. Stephanie Chigas, though a relatively mature woman, pulled off the carnal seductiveness of young Carmen effortlessly. You really could see her taking on a horde of cigarette girls and snagging the stud in the end. She seemed to take on her character with a far more natural flair than Vera, who added ironically sentimental touches to his performance that lightened the tone but sometimes made him act out of character.

And then there was Micaela (Julia Fox ’07), an Amherst alumna with a true operatic voice so fine the whole audience seemed stunned. She held her own with Chigas, Vera and Belov as a singer and gave a performance that was fresh, natural and ap proachable. In essence, she turned what is perhaps the paltriest role in Carmen into something, well, interesting (and trust me, that is a lot harder than it sounds).

This has been a good year for theatre and dance at the College. “Carmen” brought to mind the other great show of the semester, the musical “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.” Both were generous performances, professionally done and with a whole lot of heart. I am not sure which would win out as “best show of the year.” Perhaps overall, “Sweeney Todd” was more consistently strong than “Carmen,” which had a lot of highs but for some reason did not feel as cohesive as “Sweeney.” No matter. Perhaps we shouldn’t even be comparing the two in the first place. They were both excellent performances, and Amherst was lucky to have them. If you did not go see “Carmen” and decided to read this anyway: I told you so.

Issue 23, Submitted 2010-04-26 07:44:52