Upon my arrival in Salt Lake City, MG whisked me over to the beautiful Capitol Theater downtown to attend the final performance of Utah Opera's Carmen. I have to admit, my "big city" prejudices made me initially skeptical that this would be a good production and I'm pleased to say that this was a wholly worthwhile and classy production of Bizet's masterpiece of proto-verismo. Salt Lake's Capitol Theater, built in 1913 and refurbished in 1976, is a beautiful house with some really quirky architectural features I've not seen anywhere else which definitely makes one feel they are in a building of a distinct place and time. For the most part the audience appreciates this by dressing up in their Sunday finery. You can't get a drink at the bar, but you can get chocolate drops and gummy bears. Below are interior shots of the house:
Opera's ultimate femme-fatale (well, maybe after Lulu) was convincingly played by Leann Sandel-Pantaleo, whose mezzo provided enough smoke and color to make her Carmen a convincing temptress, wholly believable as the object of Don Jose's fatal obsession.
If her mastery of French was just short of allowing her to capture the more subtle nuances in Meilhac and Halevy's libretto, it didn't diminish the theatricality of her performance. Christopher Feigum's Escamillo was a dashing toreador, at least until the seat of his pants split during his knife fight with Don Jose, and if he was aware of this wardrobe malfunction he gamely didn't let on. Chad Shelton's Don Jose gave the perhaps the afternoon's best vocal performance, though he wasn't wholly convincing as the character. His Don lacked a certain arc illustrating the inner conflict or insane lust that causes one to willingly throw away one's life and prospects for the sake of a woman he knows is bad news from the get-go. Nevertheless, as he waited in the shadows to extract his revenge his face bore the look of a man truly possessed by anger and menace. His final showdown with Carmen show both performers at their best, with Sandel-Pantaleo especially convincing as a Carmen whose defiance in the face of inevitable death is captivating.
Erin Snell's Michaela was well-sung and performed. It's a small role, but she made a lasting impression in it. The children's chorus under the supervision of Susanne Sheston was exceptional. The sets by John Conklin were appropriate and detailed, if a bit provincial and too traditional for a 21st-Century production, though they looked great in the house.
The costumes by Susan Memmott-Allred were were to be expected, that is to say they didn't distract (until Escamillo's previously mentioned malfunction) but they added little and Carmen's large leather belt did little to distinguish her from the rest of the cigarette-girls and sometimes during the large ensemble scenes I found myself seeking her out among the crowd.
The orchestra, under conductor Ari Pelto, did a fine job though it sounded underpowered at times and I'm fairly certain it wasn't a full complement of players.
Next up for the company is my favorite Rossini- La Italiana en Algieri and if this production of Carmen is indicative of Utah Opera's quality, I would recommend checking it out.