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Seattle Opera Young Artists Program is performing three works this year, and one of them is, as director Peter Kazaras noted in his opening remarks, is YAP's adapatation of Peter Brooks/Marius Constant, and Jean-Claude Carriere's adaptation of Carmen called The Tragedy of Carmen.

I remember seeing this vrsion when it was televised on PBS in the 1980's, and I've been looking for a DVD release ever since (to no avail). Kazaras was one of the singers in the original production. YAP is touring it around the Puget Sound; the Seattle venue was the Capital Hill Arts Center. There was 3/4 seating, starting at floor level and rising four to five tiers. The fourth wall was a brick wall. The set was a short stool, a woven blanket, and a black travel trunk that freelanced as a bar when turned upright. There were entries at the corners for the singers and actors, who totalled six. Four sang -- Micaela, Carmen, Don Jose, Escamillo -- and two acted -- Lillas Pastias and Zuniga/Fight Manager/Garcia (a character from the Merimee original), as well as an entry from the audience; when a woman wearing a gray, hooded sweatshirt and sweats with one leg cut at the knee took her seat before the performance, I assumed it was a Seattle person making a fashion statement. There was one piano, a couple of percussion interludes, and a recording of the fourth act overture.

There was no cast list for the performance, but bios of members of all casts in the program. In tonight's cast were Teresa Herold (Carmen), Holly Boaz (Micaela), Marcus Glenn Shelton (Don Jose), and, I'm guessing, Jonathan Lasch (Escamillo). The baritone who sang and acted Escamillo looks little like either picture in the program -- he's much better looking -- but a little more like Lasch's photo. Ani Maldjian acted Lillas Pastia, and Michael Anthony McGee Zuniga/Garcia.

With the exception of Maldjian's opening speech -- my friend thought the attempted accent was Russian, but if it was, it was of the Natasha from "Rocky and Bullwinkle" variety -- the dialogue, spoken and sung in English, was crystal clear. The acting was remarkable for opera, and necessarily so, since the audience was right on top of the singer/actors. Brooks and his collaborators set the opening confrontation between Carmen and Micaela instead of between Carmen and another factory worker; this sets the tone for the rest of the opera, although I could have lived without the catfight. Boaz's Micaela would have described herself as a "good" girl, although probably on a technicality, but the way her face darkened into a glare of resentment at the recognition of being entirely outclassed by Carmen was perfect.

The most striking part of the staging for me -- and judging from the big smiles on the people across from me, for many in the audience -- was during the "Toreador Song." During the aria, Lasch pulled out a formidable pocket knife, opened the blade, and cut one, then two quarters out of an orange. As Carmen sat on the stool, arching backwards, he took the first wedge, and squeezed the juice into her mouth, and then took the second wedge, pulled out the meat of the orange, and fed it to her. I think the entire room went into a collective swoon. Talk about gastro-porn.

It's hard to judge operatic voices in a small venue without orchestra from 15-20 feet away, but there was some very impressive singing, including a playful "Toreador Song" from Lasch, who looked more like a preppie lacrosse player than bullfighter or the boxer he was turned into, and a very well-received "Flower Song" sung by Shelton, who has a very bright tenor voice. Boaz sang the hapless Micaela, but managed to give the character a spine dramatically, through both acting and voice; I think she had the hardest challenge to sing smaller for the venue. While I liked Herold's Carmen solo, she was incredible the two times she sang with other singers: she was given the harmony to what is normally Micaela's 3rd Act aria -- Brook and company changed the order of the score -- and then she sang the final duet with Don Jose. Her lower register is rich and she blended beautifully with the other singers.

I was so happy to see this production again. I prefer it to the full-length Carmen.

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It sounds fantastic -- and it's wonderful that companies still can touch base with the idea of engaging the audience on such a deep dramatic level.

Your post made me think of recent postings on Roland Petit. I wanted to post an memo to the American ballet world: Drop Dracula. Bring back Carmen !!! (Or Fall River Legend, if you have less time.)

P.S. Seattle Opera's efforts in preparing these young singers to do this kind of stage work is also relevant to the current thread anticipating what NYCB will do with Romeo and Juliet.

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