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Photograph by Pat Kirk
STEAM HEAT: Betany Coffland's Carmen gets tangled up with Michael Dailey's Don José.

Bad Girl

Opera San José brings out the sultry side of 'Carmen'

By Scott MacClelland

ENOUGH GOOD things happened at Sunday's Carmen to bode even better for subsequent performances. The alternate cast for Opera San José's new production obviously displayed well-conceived characters set within a smoothly professional environment designed to inspire as much heat as light. But this most popular of all French operas is no Sunday perambulation on La Grande Jatte. The title character demands sultry and smoldering, a woman convinced she could have any man with a flick of her eyelash or a gape at her thigh, a self-fulfilling objet sexual but with an absolute freedom to follow her heart. For this, and the other gritty denizens of a marginal Seville neighborhood, Bizet's masterpiece became the prototype for the Italian verismo movement, best exemplified in Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci and Puccini's Il tabarro. The characters bring none of the divisions and prejudices of class found in, for example, Verdi. Instead, their lives, loves, passions and deaths play out at primal levels, as if higher callings were ideals only at the liminal boundaries of comprehension.

A prerequisite for those who would take on the role of Carmen, therefore, would seem to be knowledge of a seamy life not likely to be found in the background of most aspiring young mezzo-sopranos. On the other hand, the antithetical role of the chaste Micaëla requires no such world-wise experience. And so it was Sunday, which found Betany Coffland still feeling her way into the physical sensuality of Carmen while soprano Khori Dastoor was completely at home as the "nice" girl. Michael Dailey, whose gullibility of character and fresh tenor fit perfectly with Nemorino in The Elixir of Love earlier this season, quickly established Don José as wet behind the ears—his Act 2 "Flower scene" was a highlight of the afternoon. Yet his jealous outbursts were less convincing theatrically. Here's hoping his dramatic roles become more dangerous as his tenure with OSJ matures. Daniel Cilli's Escamillo was a mixed bag. His entrance as the swaggering bullfighter—"Toréador, en garde"—was a caricature, his vocal production tight and lacking projection. But by his return, at the smuggler's den, and in his final appearance just before the end, he had found his way vocally and with more credible character.

The second tier of actors—Morales, Zuniga, Dancairo, Remendado, Frasquita and Mercedes—were given high standards vocally and dramatically by Adam Meza, Paul Murray, Sascha Joggerst, Andrew Park, Jillian Boye and Tori Grayum, respectively. They, along with the chorus and "Vivace" youth chorus, got no end of stagecraft details that kept the place active and buzzing. Credit for stage direction goes to Sandra Bengochea (who has previously sung many OSJ leading roles as Sandra Rubalcava). Serviceable, complementary sets by Giulio Cesare Perrone picked up a Moorish arch while costumes reflected handsomely on designer Elizabeth Poindexter. Conductor David Rohrbaugh paced the performance with deliberation, laying an orchestral foundation calculated to give each scene breathing room. He opened the second act, set in Lilas Pastia's taberno, at a slow gait that picked up with each reiteration, culminating in a colorful Gypsy dance. The third act entr'acte spotlighted harpist Karen Thielen and flutist Isabelle Chapuis, among other principal players.

CARMEN, an Opera San José production, plays April 23, 25, 28 and May 1 at 8pm and April 26 and May 3 at 3pm at the California Theatre, 345 S. First St., San Jose. Tickets are $69–$91. (408.437.4455)

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