Through a study in contrasts, LA Opera’s humanistic Carmen encompassed at once the passion, frailty, and psychological vulnerability of Georges Bizet’s tragedy. The unique set and color scheme, a soothing sea of pastels (as opposed to the standard bright red motif) and white walls conjured a Caribbean island, thus evoking a carefree mood. The peach palette of the set, designed by Gerardo Trotti, proved successful in providing a sharp contrast, thereby bringing the passion of Carmen to the foreground. The soft hues and blithe island atmosphere had a second positive effect: to cleverly lull the audience into a false sense of serenity so that the bloodshed at the end becomes that much more shocking.
Carmen, as played by Viktoria Vizin, also proved a study in contrasts. Physically, Vizin looked every inch the part and moved with a limber, sensuous litheness that convincingly lured every red-blooded male into her seductive snares. Vizin’s voice proved softer than past Carmens, but this trait added to the complexity of her character. Instead of an imposing siren, Vizin’s Carmen conveyed a fragility that humanized the enchantress. This quality proved particularly effective in Vizin’s intimate, confidential interpretation of “Près Des Remparts de Séville,” that drew the audience into the psychological drama. As Don Jose attempts to resist temptation, the audience asks Will he or won’t he? The Sub Rosa texture in Vizin’s voice suggested that at that moment, Carmen herself does not know, heightening her vulnerability, the suspense and making the story fresh, even for those familiar with the outcome. As a foil for the promiscuous and volatile Carmen, Genia Kühmeier sang the role of the virtuous Michaela with a strength and purity that conveyed her confidence in her moral quest. Kühmeier’s powerful rendition of “Je dis que rien ne m’épouvante” clearly conveyed her unfaltering determination to remain undaunted in the face of danger.
In addition to the set and the music, Jesús del Pozo’s exquisite costumes added to the overall meaning of the opera. Del Pozo paired elegantly detailed pieces like Carmen’s magnificent red dress in Act III or her splendidly avant-garde coat in Act II with simple contemporary touches like jeans, black pants, and sweaters. This juxtaposition of the antique with the modern through Del Pozo’s costume design remind the audience that tragedy exists today, in accounts of violence in the newspapers, on our city streets, and behind closed doors.
Finally, a humorous and insightful pre-concert lecture by Spanish Consul General, Inocencio F. Arias, at a reception hosted by Hispanics for LA Opera, revealed the nationalistic contrasts inherent in the opera, Consul General Arias ultimately deemed Carmen to be decidedly un-Spanish. The Consul stated that naming a protagonist “Bullfighter” is an embellishment as stereotypical as calling a character “Clown.” Mr. Arias determined that, despite its Spanish setting, Carmen exhibits overwhelming French attributes. In the end, however, the national identity of the opera does not invalidate its charm. After all, a French opera, set in Spain, with Caribbean decor, performed in Los Angeles with a Hungarian Mezzo-Soprano, can still enthrall, entrance, bewitch, and beguile.
Photography © LA Opera