Teresa Buchholz, mezzo-soprano (photo by Josh South)
Carmen (piano-vocal score) is a beautiful opera, with a charming, effective libretto, by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, based on a novella (.PDF file) by Prosper Mérimée. It is not that the opera is not enjoyable to watch, but that it takes extraordinary singing and an interesting staging (as much of it was in Santa Fe in 2006) to counteract the doldrums. The primary virtue of Summer Opera's production was the singer in the title role, mezzo-soprano Teresa Buchholz, who cut a seductive figure in the pretty, but very traditional costumes designed by John Lehmeyer. The voice has a chocolatey middle and bottom range, with powerful top notes that are noteworthy more for their power than their beauty. Her Habanera was a little timid and colorless, but by the Séguedille ("Près des remparts de Séville") the wattage of that lower range had kicked in.
As Don José, tenor Benjamin Warschawski had the high notes, but with occasional flatness and a compressed, nasal sound that was especially unsatisfactory when the character unraveled in jealous anger in the fourth act. As the doomed couple, the two singers had no magnetism on stage, mostly just singing near one another. The lovely soprano Lara Colby, a CUA alumna and Summer Opera regular, was a vision of blonde purity as Micaëla, down to her jupe bleue and natte tombante. Her voice, a beautiful instrument, was a little cloudy in its high notes for my taste in this role but overall very good. Thomas Beard's Escamillo was generally well sung, if not all that remarkable vocally, but completely devoid of the necessary macho arrogance. In the supporting roles, mezzo-soprano Michelle Rice was a husky-voiced Mercédès, and soprano Lisa Archibeque's high notes rang out over the ensemble as Frasquita, although she tended to be just ahead of the beat in fast passages. Baritone Zachary Nelson, a student of Sharon Christman's at CUA, had an attractive turn as Moralès.
Anne Midgette, 'Carmen' Rises to Lowered Expectations (Washington Post, July 22)
T. L. Ponick, 'Carmen' as powerful as ever (Washington Times, July 22)
The remaining performances of Carmen are scheduled for Wednesday (July 23, 7:30 pm) and Sunday (July 27, 2:30 pm), at the Harman Center for the Arts (610 F St. NW). Summer Opera's 2009 season will be less adventurous, with productions of La Traviata and The Merry Widow.