Los Angeles Opera Review: CARMEN (A POP-Up production by Pacific Opera Project)

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by Daniel S. G. Wood on March 9, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles

POP MISSES AN OP

Pacific Opera Project’s production of Carmen is difficult to review, only because the benchmark is unclear. Bizet’s ever-popular four-act 1875 opera about a gypsy temptress and the soldier she seduces is being presented under the guise of a “POP-Up” Production. With about a week of rehearsals and minimal production costs, the goal, according to their site, is to create “a party where an opera happens to be playing.”  Patrons are treated to an intimate, interactive production for a “very low price,” and POP-Ups, they say, are the perfect way to introduce your friends to opera.

Nora Graham-Smith, Nicole Fernandes, Meagan Martin and dancers in Pacific Opera Project's CARMEN.

Is the goal to produce legitimate underground opera in which we take into consideration the mistakes and miscasting? I believe the company considers itself professional, but is this a very good amateur production or a community theater version hiding behind a topical hipster minimalism?

Nora Graham-Smith in Pacific Opera Project's CARMEN.

At its best, the atmosphere is charming: The historic Ebell club has a cozy bridge-club vibe, making the event seem like a student production in fin de siècle Paris; more often, however, there is a high school talent-show undertone that is hard to shake while watching Carmen.

Babatunde Akinboboye in Pacific Opera Project's CARMEN

Yes, they manage the entire opera unabridged, sing the right notes, and make good use of the space. Also featured are some clever devices, including a time when the chorus brings audience members onstage as guests at Pastia’s inn. But ultimately the heart of the show is missing.

Adam Patrick Cromer and chorus in Pacific Opera Project's CARMEN.

The low-rent look is ambiguous, and the chorus isn’t at this point up to opera standards. In lieu of an orchestra, there is a honky-tonk piano, and conductor Stephen Karr’s occasional flubs are jarring. Adam Cromer plods through the role of Don José, missing much of the hubris this role demands. Nora Graham-Smith sings well, but she does not embody Carmen, mistaking much of Bizet’s implied grittiness for nasal snarkiness. The modern costumes are acceptable, Amy Lawrence’s dance numbers are solid, and director Josh Shaw certainly understands the show.

Adam Patrick Cromer and Aubrey Scarr in Pacific Opera Project's CARMEN.

Given the context of this event, there’s little room for this critic to do his job. The idea of pop-up guerrilla opera is extraordinarily appealing, and in this case POP hits very close to the mark. Opera is difficult enough to get right in the first place; if POP is to legitimize underground opera, either they all need more time or they just need to make fewer mistakes. I know they are on the right path, and the opera world definitely needs an infusion of fresh vision if they are to truly hook a new audience to a fairly stodgy art form. I sincerely look forward to their future efforts.

Nicholas LaGesse, Adam Patrick Cromer, Michael Bannett, Nora Graham-Smith in Pacific Opera Project's CARMEN.

photos by Martha Benedict

Carmen
A POP-Up Production by Pacific Opera Project
Highland Park Ebell Club
131 S. Avenue 57
scheduled to end on March 15, 2014
for tickets, call (323) 739-6122 or visit www.PacificOperaProject.com

Nora Graham-Smith and chorus in Pacific Opera Project's CARMEN. Nora Graham-Smith in Pacific Opera Project's CARMEN Nora Graham-Smith and dancers in Pacific Opera Project's CARMEN. Nicholas LaGesse, Adam Patrick Cromer, Michael Bannett, Nora Graham-Smith in Pacific Opera Project's CARMEN. Meagan Martin, Michael Bannett, Nora Graham-Smith, Nicole Fernandes, Robert Norman in Pacific Opera Project's CARMEN. Babatunde Akinboboye in Pacific Opera Project's CARMEN. Babatunde Akinboboye and Nora Graham-Smith in Pacific Opera Project's CARMEN. Aubrey Scarr and Matthew Ian Welch in Pacific Opera Project's CARMEN. Amy Lawrence, Matthew Ian Welch, Nicole Fernandes, Bryan Dahl and Meagan Martin in Pacific Opera Project's CARMEN. Amy Lawrence in Pacific Opera Project's CARMEN. Adam Patrick Cromer and Nora Graham-Smith in Pacific Opera Project's CARMEN.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Kathryn March 12, 2014 at 2:54 pm

I agree about the guy playing Don Jose & the sets were sadly lacking, but I really enjoyed the performance. I thought the musical performances were wonderful. And you didn’t mention how sensational the woman playing Micaela was. The night I went she stole the show! Also, it WAS abridged, they just cut out the crappy bits like the children’s chorus.

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Ed March 16, 2014 at 3:28 pm

Agree with the reviewer about the chorus – not quite fully baked yet. Don Jose was a variation on several of the dwarfs: lumpy, frumpy, and grumpy. His “rage” was jarring and way over the top. Hubris? Nay, kind reviewer, he descends into madness. And that, we did see. The sets, well, they could have tried to be minimalistic instead of cleaning out the Dollar Store. The dancing was notably good. The lead, as Carmen, was fiery, spicy and intriguing with a full, round smoky mezzo; your cutting remark about “nasally snarkiness” was not in evidence the night I went. The character is an archetype and was played as such. She carried the show. Micaela, also an archetype, was outstanding – with a clear, bright soprano and strong characterization. The staging was awkward – too many people on the small stage and not enough for them to do.

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