My first experience with the opera Carmen was the MTV-produced Carmen: A Hip Hopera. It starred Beyonce Knowles as Carmen around the time the former Destiny’s Child singer was trying to turn herself into a multi-hyphenated threat. The film butchered the classic opera and the acting wasn’t all that great, especially on Knowles’ part.
The next time I watched a version of Carmen, it was Carmen Jones; the 1954 version starring Dorothy Dandridge, Pearl Bailey and a young Harry Belafonte. This version is superb with its awesome operatic singing and of course, Dandridge in all her glory.
My latest brush with Carmen was actually Carmen, the opera, which is presented by the Florida Grand Opera and can be seen at the Adrienne Arsht Center’s Ziff Ballet Theater in downtown Miami on May 8.
In Carmen, Kendall Gladen, with her booming voice, plays the title character. Carmencita, as she is called in the play, is a gypsy, cigarette girl looking for her next lover in the town of Seville, Spain. After setting her sights on Corporal Don Jose (Adam Diegel), who is about to marry Micaela (Elaine Alvarez), Carmen gets into a fight with another cigarette girl and has to be taken to jail. Before Carmencita can get to jail, she convinces Don Jose to let her go. He does, and his captain, Zuniga (Benjamin Clements) throws him in jail for losing a prisoner.
A month later, Don Jose is out of jail and wanting to be with Carmen, who talks him out of returning to the army to instead travel through the mountains with other gypsies. It’s not long before Carmen grows bored with Don Jose and moves on to Escamillo (Mark Walters), a famous bullfighter.
Gladen is a strong Mezzo-Soprano, with her buxom body that heaves its way toward Don Jose whenever he’s near. It’s nice to see a sister carry her own on the stage, like Dandridge did on the screen. In fact, all of the singers in this opera are superb.
For a play with much hype, however, I expected more than a beautifully sung opera that repeats its lines for filler and takes the long way in getting its point across. The repeat phrases tend to lose their juice the third time around. At over three hours long, with four acts, the play is too long with not enough story to keep its audience interested.
By Act III, it’s obvious that Carmen is done with Don Jose, but the tale lacks enough weight to show the audience the magnitude of what Carmen is doing; even her card-reading scene runs its course a third into its rendition.
The best parts of the opera are its dancers’ costumes, the orchestra (thanks to conductor Willie Anthony Waters), and the melodic singing, which contains the sweetness of French without the tanginess of slang (as in 1954’s Carmen Jones.)
After watching Dorothy Dandridge beautifully own the screen in the musical, I expected the opera to be just as lively, if not better.
PHOTO BY GASTON DE CARDENAS. Kendall Gladen
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Carmen, the opera.
WHEN: Final performance at 8 p.m. on May 8, 2010.
WHERE: Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County, Ziff Ballet Opera House, 1300 Biscayne Boulevard, Miami.
COST: $13.75 to $178.75.
PARKING:$15 to $20.
CONTACT: 305-949-6722 www.arshtcenter.org