The staging was strong on gestures and movements.
Friday night the Madison Opera opened this season with a lavish production in Overture Hall of the perennial crowd-pleaser, Bizet's Carmen.
And a production to please it surely was. A set from the Austin Lyric Opera, basically a single-unit structure with variable parts, served the different settings of the four acts quite well. It allowed space for a huge cast not only of soloists and choristers, but an outsized troop of children, flamenco dancers, jugglers and diversely costumed extras. Costumes themselves, from the Utah Opera, were exceedingly, but appropriately, colorful.
At times it did seem a bit much. Director Candace Evans contrived a staging rich in vivid details, strong on gestures and movements, but almost too busy at times. The Act II quintet was so heavily choreographed as to resemble a musical comedy number. There was a lot of milked humor, with an Act I routine that had a tiny toddler stealing the children's scene.
All that said, the production was undeniably enjoyable, and not least in its solid musical dimensions. Without celebrity names among the leading singers, the youthful cast was exceedingly consistent in quality. At the top was Katharine Goeldner, whose firm mezzo-soprano voice, if not large, could achieve emotional power when needed. She has the full measure of Carmen's tempestuous Gypsy character.
Two veterans of the MO's Opera in the Park sang with vocal distinction. The healthy soprano voice of Elizabeth Caballero is almost too mature for the young and innocent Micaëla, but she sang with beautiful feeling. Adam Diegel is a lyric tenor of strength and clarity: he ably shows the evolution of Don José's jealous nature, if not quite capturing the essentially unredeemable brutality of the character. An impressive Valentin in the MO's recent Faust, baritone Hyung Yun was a nicely swaggering Escamillo.
In the secondary roles, unusually tall bass Harold Wilson literally stood out as Lt. Zuniga, for towering over everyone else as well as for fine singing and acting. Four singers with established Madison backgrounds gave notable portrayals. As Carmen's spirited friends, Amy Mahoney and Jamie Van Eyck sang beautifully and with great flair in the Act III trio. Baritone Ryan Thorn (with also a military role in Act I) and tenor James Kryshak were a delightful Mutt-and-Jeff pair of smugglers.
The production deserves special credit for going back to Bizet's original uses of spoken dialogue -- most, if not all of it. The choice further revealed the cast's quite serviceable command of French.
Notwithstanding a few horn flubs Friday evening, the pit orchestra was excellent, with John DeMain's leadership predictably strong and idiomatic.
The production has its second and final performance on Sunday, Nov. 9.