In performance: National Philharmonic's concert "Carmen"
Lukewarm Carmen picks up steam at end
by Joe Banno
I'm not sure how Bizet's opera "Carmen" really benefits from a concert performance. The atmospheric scoring registers pretty vividly from the average opera house pit, without the orchestra needing to be put front-and-center. And this love-gone-homicidal tale -- so effectively dramatized by the composer -- cries out for the greasepaint and footlights to grab an audience by the throat.
(read more after the jump)
At the National Philharmonic's "Carmen"-in-concert on Saturday at Strathmore Hall, some halfhearted blocking and mimed stage business came to life only in the final scene, when tenor Daniel Snyder and mezzo Kendall Gladen upped the stakes and acted it as if the concert had blossomed into a full-scale production. The quiet intensity of Snyder's Don Jose throughout the evening, in fact, proved the dramatic focus of the performance, while the blend of easy sensuality and dignity in Gladen's Carmen brought a welcome respite from the role's oft-encountered histrionics.
Gladen's velvety tone and impressive chest voice also deserved praise, as did the thrilling ring and passionate phrasing in much of Snyder's singing. The other soloists ranged from the elegant Zuniga of bass James Shaffran to the lovely, if small-scaled, Micaela of soprano Theresa Santiago to baritone Dean Elzinga's rather tepid and under-powered Escamillo.
The orchestra and National Philharmonic Chorale gave a well-disciplined, warmly blended account of the score under Piotr Gajewski's baton. But the narration by Strathmore's president and CEO, Eliot Pfanstiehl (offered in lieu of dialogue, recitative or supertitles), was a tangle of mispronounced character names and ain't-opera-quaint condescension.
-- Joe Banno
Edited to add: Any comments on this or other weekend operas, notably the Met's "Rosenkavalier" broadcast?
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