J. A. Di Bello’s Review of Carmen

April 14, 2019

The First Presbyterian Church


      A patron in the proximity of the historic Village of Monroe, may easily encounter mountainous terrain, historic trails and even hidden passes. And, if that visitor included The First Presbyterian Church of Monroe on Stage Road he may also be confronted by Gypsies, smugglers and, are you ready?... cigarette girls of dubious reputation.

Incongruous as that may sound, the lack of consistency is the fond creation of the Hudson Opera Theatre and its Director, the talented Maestro Ron De Fezi. To borrow a catchy phrase, they “Stand and Deliver” with increasing regularity!

The Monroe production is a provoking and rousing presentation of Georges Bizet’s most popular opera, Carmen! This sensuous tale of lust and betrayal is the outgrowth of a novella by the French romantic, Prosper Mérimée.  It is one of the world’s most popular operas, presented in-the-round through the endless efforts of the Theatre’s brilliant Production Staff, Volunteers, Orchestra, Chorus and Actors.

For the uninitiated, opera in-the-round has a tendency to be an intimate and frequently emotional experience. Two critical factors influence this observation.  And DeFezi has both under his control.  First consider proximity. Monroe’s cozy venue is one that frequently allows directors to position principals less than ten to fifteen yards from the audience. And, as is recurrently the case, a significant number of operas conclude with the demise of a principal character, the result of a terminal illness or as in the case of Bizet’s lusty Carmen: malfeasance, i.e., murder.

Add to that first ingredient the sine qua non: Maestro De Fezi’s wondrous assemblage of extraordinary, talented musicians.  This is none other than the reflection of the Hudson Opera Theatre’s forty-two year history. It should be a surprise to none: Many members, i.e., actors/vocalists, chorus, orchestra and volunteers have become known fixtures of the Hudson Valley Opera.  It’s an organization of which to be proud. Nevertheless, and to its advantage, new productions require auditions and through that process, new and worthy talent is brought to the Monroe stage with each production.

On the Monroe stage, the Carmen is delivered in French, with 4 acts and contains original dialogue, as written.  This technique is effective in developing the verismonature of the opera, a la Leoncavallo, Puccini, et al. As a director’s creative preference, choice stands not as opposition but as a creative variation to frequently used recitatives and accompanying variations; some using more dialogue, others less with a greater number of recitatives. The history of this opera offers a plethora of thoughtful and imaginative variations to the resourceful.

The organizational process of renewal, secular regeneration and familiarity was evident in the Theatre’s thrilling delivery of an opera that at its première was a failure, France (1875). The reasons for its initial non-fulfillment are varied and a fascinating subject its own right. In this production, the delivery of Don José, the poorly disciplined military corporal is masterful. Jeduthun Chung Gu Kim, a veteran tenor of the Opera Theatre, recently performed with striking admiration. This weekend’s performance, one should note, is a notch above. As a superior accomplishment, he displayed with exemplary credibility his vocal and acting talents: for there, up close and personal was the anger and envy of a maverick solider, smitten by a lusty, red-blooded Gypsy women, Carmen.

To kindle that lust, sending Don José on a journey of no return, is the tempestuous Gypsy woman, Carmen. She is brought into our scope of credibility by Madison Marie McIntosh, a full, pleasurable, and most capable mezzo. The vocal passion projected by each in the final duet, “C'est toi - C'est moi,” is literally breathtaking. It stands as a wrath of unbridled anger, challenged by determined defiance! Not one for the faint of heart, i.e., squeamish.  

In support of these determined performers is a lush assortment of competent artists, each functioning within the confines of talent, specified roles, and purpose. Striking is the “girl-back-home” of José, Micaela. She, as portrayed by Kimberly Lloyd, is a pleasing soprano who fondly delivers a beautiful duet and aria. Further, Micaela is essential to the development of this disastrous scenario. She acts as the secure conduit between José and his frail mother. In that position, she is addressed as an “approved and future” bride of a challenged José. And no doubt serves as a contributing factor of long-range security for the mother.

But with José’s liberated spirit, he finds his opponent in the form of a popular toreador, Escamillo, brought handsomely and effectively to the stage by baritone Jeffrey Goble. He’s very convincing, as he prances about projecting the the character’s unsympathetic image of a blustering peacock in a self-defined henhouse.

These and others, especially, bass, Andrew Martins as Zuniga, Lieutenant of the Dragoons and, Joseph E. Gansert as Morales (also Le Dancaire) interact with Carmen and her Gypsy companions, Mercedes and Frasquita. This pivotal pair convincing played by Ema Mitrovic, mezzo and Eugenia Forteza, soprano, respectively.

Also, and with interest is a vibrant “Flamingo Dancer,” Gladys Calzada, who successfully survived a costume malfunction. Tenor, Justin Scott Randolph, rounded off the cast as a smuggler. As a collective, interacting group of vocalists, musicians, et al, an appealing and exceptionally engaging presentation of Bizet’s Carmen was delivered to an appreciative audience. Bravo a tutti.

The curtain has closed on Maestro De Fezi’s interpretation of Carmen. And, as rehearsals are currently in progress for the Hudson Opera Theatre’s next sumptuous treat, Puccini’s ever popular Madama Butterfly, it would be wise to familiarize oneself with Opera Verismo, the function of the U.S. Navy in Japan, at the turn of the 20th century, and in particular, the traditional role of a Japanese geisha. Performances are scheduled for June 1st, Saturday at 7:00 PM and Sunday, June 2nd at 4 PM at the First Presbyterian Church of Monroe, Stage Road. Reservations strongly suggested, box office @ 845-661-0544


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