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Review: ‘Bizet’s Carmen in Havana’ at The In Series

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The In Series wows again with one of their trademark reimaginings: Carmen in Havana, which takes the essential scenes from Bizet’s classic and adds the Latin rhythms of the Caribbean with iconic Cuban songs like “Siboney” and “Orgullecida.” The arias are also mixed with ballet as company members and trainees from The Washington Ballet complete the ensemble and also dance Carmen’s classic tragic love story, shadowing the singers for arias like “Tell Me About My Mother” and “The Tarot Cards.”  Georges Bizet wrote the music and Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halevy wrote the libretto to Carmen premiered in 1875.

 (Escamillo) and cast members of 'Carmen in Havana.' Photo by Angelisa Gillyard.

Alex Alburqueque (Escamillo) and cast members of ‘Carmen in Havana.’ Photo by Angelisa Gillyard.

Since the singers only take the key moments of the opera, much of the plot is left to the dancers in impressive ensemble numbers like “Don Jose’s Aria, Murder of a rival officer” with dancers Aurelio Guimaraes, Kyra Wendelken, and Stephen Nakagawa acting out the initial murder. Darion Flores, Frederico D’Ortenzi, Yossi Zorfaty, and Zhenghong Cao were featured in the final “Confrontation.”

The stage is blank to make room for dancers in Spanish costumes of lace and cotton with colorful scarves and flowers by Donna Breslin. The main set piece is a mural of a Cuban family dozens of feet high.

The choreography by Septime Webre and David Palmer is an intriguing mixture of Latin and Spanish dance and ballet in an athletic display of pas de deux and soloes. They also direct the opera, seamlessly merging song and dance, with the help of conductor and pianist Carlos Cesar Rodriguez and drummer Ivan Navas. The fact that they can take on all of Bizet’s varied score is impressive.

One highlight is “In the Tavern: Stool Dance” which has the entire company onstage dancing rhythmic and percussive duet with stools.  Another highlight is “Michaela’s Prayer” which is one of many duets between singer and actor. Ronda Rouweyha’s lyric soprano and heart breaking emotion soar and perfectly matches Giselle MacDonald’s dancing.

Peter J. Burroughs’ (Don Jose) tenor easily fills the Atlas for “Don Jose’s Aria” and the heartbreaking “Final Duet.” Alex Alburqueque (Escamillo) and his expressive style works well for “Toreador” also known as the bullfighter’s song, made more dramatic with dancer Thomas Giugovaz’s dramatic bullfight.

 Anamer Castrello (Carmen) and cast members. Photo by Angelisa Gillyard.

Anamer Castrello (Carmen) and cast members. Photo by Angelisa Gillyard.

Another highlight and the star of the show is Anamer Castrello (Carmen). Her full-bodied mezzo soprano is a delight on the famous “Habanera” and “Gypsy Song” with her dancer shadows Delaney Zieg, Kyra Wendelken, and Ao Wang.

Opera and ballet are the pinnacle of their respective disciplines and a wonderful collaboration.  The In Series has created a totally new imagining of this classic story with a visually and vocally stunning show.

Running Time: Two hours, with one 15-minute intermission.

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Carmen in Havana plays through February 7, 2016 at The In Series performing at Atlas Performing Arts Center – 1333 H Street NE, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 399-7993, or purchase them online.

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