Wolf Trap Opera’s ‘Carmen’ With The National Symphony Orchestra

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Wolf Trap Opera’s production of George Bizet’s Carmen started as a flurry of lightning bugs and lit up phones last evening. Wolf Trap revealed new, cutting-edge supertitle technology by Figaro Systems and MobiTxt. The program fused art and technology, allowing opera-goers on the right side of the lawn to use their phones, tablets, and even Google Glass to view the supertitles straight from their mobile devices. The left side of the lawn, however, was just lightning bugs and deemed device-free, with audience members viewing the supertitles projected on the stage. Technology journalist and classical music enthusiast David Pogue joined the cast of Carmen as a supernumerary (an “extra” who doesn’t sing) and wore Google Glass to give the audience a “second screen” look at the action taking place onstage at the Filene Center. Pictures and short clips from his experience will be available soon.

Mezzo-soprano Maya Lahyani (Carmen).

Mezzo-soprano Maya Lahyani (Carmen).

French composer Georges Bizet is the master composer behind Carmen, premiering it in Paris in 1875. Carmen is a particular genre of French opera called opéra comique, meaning that it contains spoken dialogue, along with arias and chorus parts. It wasn’t particularly successful at first, due to the controversial nature of the lusty, villainous heroine, dark subject matter, and rhythmic melodies. Carmen gained popularity and its saucy reputation some years later.

Wolf Trap Opera’s run of Carmen was an Operascape production, with full costumes and custom-designed video projections. S. Katy Tucker’s video production design and lighting by Mark Stanley set the tone 1930’s Spain, with the stone tobacco factory, candlelit tavern, twisted, craggy mountain forest, and vibrant bullring in full view above the action. The mixed media set design provided a helpful backdrop in the outdoor space that contained the cast, National Symphony Orchestra, and The Washington Chorus, and small platforms and wooden box set pieces. Cicadas and crickets chirping in the night added their own flair to the performance, especially during the mountain scene.

Rooth Varland’s vivid and evocative costumes popped on stage and offered insight to the characters who were wearing them. Carmen’s transformation from cigarette girl in a slip dress, to gypsy dancer in a full skirt, to a  bandit in trousers and low-cut blouse, to a bullfigher’s high society lady, were especially intriguing and telling of her wild character.

Conductor Grant Gershon also expertly led the cast, National Symphony Orchestra, and Washington Chorus through the smoky townsquare, dancing in the tavern, traveling in the mountains, and celebrating at the bullring.

The beautiful Israeli mezzo-soprano Maya Lahyani and graduate of the Filene Young Artist Program lit up the stage as the villianous heroine Carmen. With a rich voice and incredible comfort in her own body and command of her surrounding space, she perfectly embodied the sensual, carefree, and physical character of Carmen. Every slinky move, gaze, giggle, and hip sway was deliberate. Ms. Lahyani is a top-notch, gorgeous performer, and she played into Carmen’s fickle heart and disregard for the people around her, especially Don Jose. Director Tara Faircloth also seemed to be in tune with the fact that her young cast closely matched the ages of the characters they were playing, and the rest of the actors, many of them Filene Young Artists, sang excellently and looked great on stage. I especially enjoyed the coquettish cigarette girls during “La cloche a sonné.”

Soprano Melinda Whittington (Micaëla).

Soprano Melinda Whittington (Micaëla).

Melinda Whittington, soprano, also gave a lovely and heart-filled performance of Micaëla—her interpretation of “C’est les contrabandiers le refuge ordinaire” elicited immediate applause and “Bravas!” from many audience members. Likewise, baritone Norman Garrett sang Escamillo with great machismo matched with grace.

American tenor Kevin Ray’s tragic Don José was consistently on point, and he really leaned into the part. His portrayal of José’s obsession with Carmen was almost comical—the audience even laughed a few times.

It’s not surprising that Carmen is one of the most popular and beloved operas. Modern audiences appreciate and identify with its beautiful and memorable melodies, driving rhythms, and perhaps even lust and love.

Running Time: Two and a half hours, with one intermission.

Carmen was performed for one night on July 25, 2014, at The Filene Center at Wolf Trap -1645 Trap Road, in Vienna, VA. For future performances and information, call (877) 965-3872, look online, or check their calendar of events.

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