Review: Sarasota Opera “Carmen” with Lisa Chavez, Cody Austin, Hanna Brammer – March 16, 2018

Sarasota Opera’s 2018 Winter Opera Festival is comprised of four operas. Three of the operas  (Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut”, Bellini’s “Norma” and d’Albert’s “Tiefland”) have never been presented by the company before this year.

The fourth, Bizet’s “Carmen”, has been revived after a five season absence, using 2012 production sets created by David P. Gordon in 2012.

[Below: the first scene of the Sarasota Opera’s David P. Gordon production of Bizet’s “Carmen”; edited image, based on a Herb Booth photograph, courtesy of the Saratoga Opera.]

Lisa Chavez’ Carmen

In the title role California mezzo-soprano Lisa Chavez displayed vocal warmth and expressiveness (and an accomplished command of the castenets in the dance accompanying her second act Gypsy Song.)

[Below: Lisa Chavez as Carmen; edited image, based on a Herb Booth photograph,  courtesy of the Sarasota Opera.]

A principal artist with the San Jose (California) Opera, Chavez proved to be a classic Carmen, her lustrous lower register enlisted for the role’s most familiar arias, the Habanera, the Seguidilla, the Gypsy Song and the Card Song.

Cody Austin’s Don Jose

Kansas tenor Cody Austin, a graduate of Philadelphia’s prestigious Academy of the Vocal Arts, was an appealing Don Jose in his first act duet with Hanna Brammer’s Micaela.

[Below: Cody Austin as Don Jose; edited image, based on a Herb Booth photograph, courtesy of the Sarasota Opera.]

After his affecting aria La fleur que tu m’avais jet√©e (the flower song), Austin displayed spinto power in the dramatic scenes of Don Jose’s transformation into, first, outlaw and, ultimately, Carmen’s killer.

Hanna Brammer’s Micaela

Michigan soprano Hanna Brammer was a creamy-voiced Micaela, charming in her duet with Cody Austin’s Don Jose, endearing in her third act aria Je dis que rien ne m’√©pouvante.

[Below: Hanna Brammer as Micaela; edited image, based on a production photograph, courtesy of the Sarasota Opera.]

An alumna of Sarasota Opera’s Studio Artists program, Brammer is obviously at the threshold of an important career.

Steven LaBrie’s Escamillo

Texas baritone Steven LaBrie successfully negotiated the challenging Toreador Song (just because it’s familiar doesn’t mean it’s easy to sing) and joined Cody Austin’s Don Jose in a dramatically persuasive third act knife fight.

[Below: Steven LaBrie as Escamillo; edited image, based on a Herb Booth photograph, courtesy of the Sarasota Opera.]

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Other Cast Members

Don Jose’s superior officer, Lieutenant Zuniga, was authoritatively sung by New York bass-baritone Costas Tsourakis, the believability of whose acting was worth noting. (Unlike in some productions, Zuniga survives his second act encounter with Carmen, Don Jose and the smugglers.)

[Below: Lieutenant Zuniga (Costas Tsourakis, center front left) takes an interest in the gypsy Carmen (Lisa Chavez, center front right); edited image, based on a Herb Booth photograph, courtesy of the Saratoga Opera.]

Jose’s fellow corporal, Morales, was sung by Florida baritone Jared A. Guest.

Carmen’s smuggler associates were Le Dancaire, played by Virginia baritone Alexander Charles Boyd and Le Remendado, played by Swiss tenor Sean Christensen. Her gypsy colleagues were Tennessee soprano Chelsea Davidson as Frasquita and Florida mezzo-soprano Nicole Woodward as Mercedes.

[Below: the “Carmen” Quintet, comprised of La Remendado (Sean Christensen), Mercedes (Nicole Woodward), Carmen (Lisa Chavez), Frasquita (Chelsea Davidson) and Le Dancaire (Alexander Charles Boyd); edited image, based on a Herb Booth photograph, courtesy of the Sarasota Opera.]

Maestro John F. Spencer IV and the Sarasota Opera Orchestra, Chorus of Sarasota Opera Apprentice and Studio Artists and Sarasota Youth Opera.

Maestro John F. Spencer IV, who is in the early years of his conducting career, led the talented Saratoga Opera Orchestra with authority.

The chorus is comprised of Sarasota Opera Apprentices and Studio Artists (similar to the Santa Fe Opera choruses that are comprised of members of that company’s young artists’ program.)

Canadian director Martha Collins staged the production. Washington’s Ken Yunker was lighting designer.

[Below: Carmen (Lisa Chavez, right) rejects the pleas of Don Jose (Cody Austin, kneeling, left) to return to him; edited image, based on a Herb Booth photograph, courtesy of the Sarasota Opera.]

Comments

The Sarasota Opera mounted a fast-paced, persuasively sung performance of “Carmen”, in an attractive production faithful to the opera’s performance tradition, which should appeal to both the veteran opera-goer and the person new to opera.