Is fate written in the card for Carmen?
We will have to see as, Vancouver Opera wraps its digital season with a unique production of Bizet’s timeless classic, Carmen: Up Close and Personal.
Director Brenna Corner has crafted a production that lives up to the title Up Close and Personal. Mounting an opera as grand as Carmen in the time of COVID-19 and making it for digital streaming is indeed a grand ambition. Corner and Vancouver Opera have done a magnificent job of creating a show that brings the viewer the greatest hits of Bizet’s work but also makes it feel totally new. With the cast pared down to just 4 leads instead of the usual dozen plus chorus creates an intimate character study of what drives them.
Carmen, played by Amanda Weatherall, is the vivacious, free-spirited gypsy everyone loves. The upstanding soldier, Don José, who is willing to throw away everything he stands for just for the love of Carmen, is played by Ian Cleary. Jonelle Sills portrays Micaëla with an innocent passion as she delivers messages from Don José’s mother and her heart. Carmen meets her match in the vain and arrogant toreador Escamillo, confidently portrayed by Luka Kawabata.
Condensing the grand scale of the original work into a 70 minute, four character, filmed production required some cleaver adapting from Director Corner. She says, “In this imagining, Carmen’s future is laid out before her through a tarot card reading, giving Carmen the ultimate power to either accept fate or make her own choices. I have always been intrigued by arthouse film and this seemed the perfect pairing for Bizet’s masterpiece.”
The audience is left to decide if what we are seeing in each scene is the tarot cards’ prediction for Carmen’s future, or is it the actual outcome of her actions with tragedy its conclusion. Taking on the camera style of an arthouse film, Corner really allows the audience to get up close and personal with the actors, while they maintain their safe 6 foot distance from each other onstage. While the usual production gives the audience a grand spectacle, Carmen: Up Close and Personal really allows us to see what the actors are laying before us, and doesn’t allow them any space to slip out of these complex characters as we watch each movement. We can see the smug, smile on Carmen’s face knowing the power she has over the men. Micaëla looks burdened carrying messages to the conflicted Don José while also carrying her heart on her sleeve. And of course, we get an up close look at how Escamillo sees himself as the cock-of-the-walk.
While, I’m sure we all are anxious to see Vancouver Opera perform again in-person at Queen Elizabeth Theatre, we can thank COVID-19 and the Carmen: Up Close and Personal creators for bringing us such a uniquely entertaining production.
Carmen: Up Close and Personal is now streaming on Vancouver Opera’s digital portal along with the season’s other productions; La Voix Humaine, Amahl and the Night Visitors, and The Music Shop. Tickets are available for the individual productions or the entire season at digital.vancouveropera.ca