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'Carmen' at Wolf Trap

Wolf Trap Opera's important work is in the intimate indoor venue of the Barns, like Handel's Giulio Cesare in Egitto last month. The company, a training ground for young singers, also usually gives at least one performance in the Filene Center, a cavernous outdoor venue that appeals for some reasons -- the feel of summer, lawn seating, a large audience -- but is annoying for others, including the necessity of amplification for the singers. This year's Filene offering, a rather plain semi-staging of Bizet's Carmen, fell on Friday night, when the weather was perfect.

The sound experience of this performance was disconcerting on many levels, as the amplification system made it impossible to judge the quality of the singers' voices. Maya Lahyani had enough magnetism to pull off the title role, with a dark, viscous voice that had most of the compass needed, with some iffy notes on top. New York-born tenor Kevin Ray brought out the dorky qualities of Don José -- "il est trop niais," jokes Carmen at one point -- and had some ringing high notes, although the amplification spoiled the sound of his head voice, so crucial in the character's big aria, La fleur que tu m'avais jetée. Melinda Whittington's Micaëla was full-bodied and not so innocent that she wanted anything to do with Don José by the end of the third act, while the Escamillo of Norman Garrett left little impression, either vocally or dramatically.

Other Reviews:

Tom Huizenga, Wolf Trap Opera’s ‘Carmen’ could use a little more of the original’s edginess (Washington Post, July 28)
Balances were made difficult by the amplification, so the supporting voices of the quintet were hard to distinguish. Worse, the National Symphony Orchestra, which played quite well, was placed on stage behind the singers, making the softer instruments, especially harp and flute, hard to hear, even with amplification. A large host of singers from the Washington Chorus were even further away behind the orchestra, not always lining up with the chorus members on stage, and although conductor Grant Gershon, resident conductor of the Los Angeles Opera, had a good handle on the score, he had no way to connect to the lead singers, who were behind him. Tara Faircloth's bare-bones production, with projections by S. Katy Tucker to suggest locations and costumes by Rooth Varland, was about as traditional and boring as they come.

Rather than trying to improve any of these shortcomings, the folks at Wolf Trap expended a lot of effort on some completely unnecessary technological bells and whistles instead. Subtitles that could be beamed to your tablet or other device reportedly did not work most of the evening. David Pogue, a technology writer and opera fan, also came on stage as a supernumerary wearing a Google Glass headset. This coincided almost perfectly with the appearance of Jerry Seinfeld on the cover of Wired as their "Guest Glasshole." No further comment is required.

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