La tragédie de Carmen is a stripped down version of Bizet’s opera originally created by Peter Brook some thirty years ago. It dispenses with the chorus and most of the minor characters to focus in on the central drama of Carmen, Micaëla, Don José and Escamillo with some support from Zuniga and Lillas Pastia. In Loose TEA Theatre’s version the action is transferred to New York in the 1920s and given a night club/mob setting which stretches the libretto but allows the rather striking Cassandra Warner to appear in some quite stunning outfits.
The piece is very condensed. It runs maybe 80 minutes. Presented in a small space like Buddies in bad times it becomes almost unbearably intense, especially when presented by fine actors as it was here. Central to the whole thing is Warner’s stunning Carmen. She is very good looking in a rather angular 1920s sort of way. She can act and she has a really good voice. The tone is genuine mezzo but she seems quite comfortable well up into soprano territory. The overall effect was extremely sexy.
Ryan Harper is a big beefy tenor with a big beefy tenor voice and played Don José as a violent, broken drunk. (The notes suggest PTSD as the root cause). It’s not an especially subtle portrayal but it works and it works well with Warner’s Carmen. Greg Finney played Escamillo as a mob boss. Finney is a fine singer and his considerable acting talents usually lead to him playing comic roles. Here he worked fine though it would be hard to imagine him as the traditional macho bull fighter Escamillo. Lisa Faieta sang Micaëla. She has a very distinctive voice; powerful with lots of slice. I’d love to hear her in a bigger theatre but from just a few feet away it was a bit overwhelming.
Alaina Viau was responsible for the concept and the direction. She made good use of the space staging much of the action in and around the audience which reinforced the intimate intensity. One is not going to get kicked by Escamillo as he rolls around in a death embrace with Don José at the Four Seasons Centre. Music direction and piano accompaniment was efficiently executed by Jennifer Tung.
It’s good to see another small company taking a crack at small scale opera. It’s especially good to see it at a time of year when not much else is happening on the Toronto opera scene.