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Carmen

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Carmen is safe choice to open an opera season. It’s popular with audiences, and divas of both the soprano and mezzo persuasion enjoy letting their hair down as Bizet’s eponymous heroine. But a safe choice doesn’t necessarily mean a routine production and hopes were high for the opening of LA Opera’s 2017 – 2018 Season.

 

Expectations dipped slightly upon realizing that this was a return of the Teatro Real production which has visited Los Angeles several times in the past fifteen years. Designed by Gerardo Trotti, the well-used sets for this production are massive and require two intermissions for the changeovers. Despite their size, they offer the director surprisingly few staging options. Take the oddly staged moment in the first act when the male chorus faces front, admiring the cigarette girls as they exit the factory on their break. Then forget consistency as the ladies sneak on from upstage, behind the men ogling them.

 

Director Ron Daniels’ staging is otherwise unfussy and straightforward. There are none of the bizarre directorial flourishes seen in past productions on this set, like the drag Lillas Pastia, or the murder of Zuniga. Daniels does find some intriguing interplay between Carmen and Jose, but it is patently clear which characters interest him, and which don’t. When Jose and Michaela share the stage, they simply face front and sing.

Ana Maria Martinez sings Carmen with a distinctive and very personal style. Possessed of a rich and resonant lower register, she has none of the problems many sopranos find with the role. While an attractive woman, Martinez doesn’t play the sexpot. Her Carmen draws men in with her wilful and defiant nature. It’s a strong choice that requires an equally commanding Jose.

Luckily Brandon Jovanovich is up to the task. (I saw the opera late in the run and Jovanovich only sang the final three performances of the run.) He sang the role in the last LA Opera production and now brings an added hint of danger to his boy next door persona. His tenor sound remains large and virile, but he sacrifices some elegance to dig more deeply into Jose’s darker passions. It’s a potent and convincing performance.

Amanda Woodbury sings radiantly as Michaela, despite the fact that she is dressed in a hideous shmatta. Alexander Vinogradov makes a compact and competent Escamillo. He feels slightly uneasy with the extroverted “Toreador Song,” but he proves more persuasive in the third act clash with Jose.

Liv Redpath and Kelley O’Connor are fetching in their well-sung turns as Carmen’s cohorts, Frasquita and Mercedes. Similarly, Theo Hoffman and Brian Michael Moore make the most of their stage time as the smugglers, Dancaire and Remendado. When these four join with Carmen in their thrillingly breakneck quintet, it simply carries you away.

Watching over the solid musical elements of the production is LA Opera’s music director James Conlon, who leads the orchestra in an exciting and impassioned reading of Bizet’s timeless score.

Dorothy Chandler Pavilion    September 9 – October 1, 2017    LAOpera.org

 

Spotlight

Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.