Carmen Seduces Us All

Carmen is one of opera’s very bad girls. She seduces and then abandons her lovers about every six months, leaving them in various states of despair.


But the weak-willed Don Jose, a Spanish soldier who deserts his regiment for her, will be her undoing.

Lyric Opera of Chicago opened its production of Bizet’s “Carmen” the evening of Oct. 13 and in the title role is American mezzo soprano Katharine Goeldner. She was originally to sing only the final Oct. 29 matinee, but pregnancy problems caused previously announced Kate Aldrich to withdraw.

So Goeldner will sing all six performances, and she is a fine Carmen, pretty and slender enough to carry off a seductive dance in Lilias Pastia’s place, a hangout for Carmen and other gypsy outlaws. She’s also handles the intricate flourishes of her arias with confidence.

The initially straight-arrow, Don Jose, whose affair with Carmen causes his complete disintegration, is sung by South Korean tenor Yonghoon Lee. He is a slight, nimble man and his final desperation has an almost feral quality. But don’t let his frame fool you. He has a powerful voice and his heartfelt Flower Song drew sustained applause on opening night.

The toreador Escamillo is ably portrayed by American bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen. He sings opera’s best-known aria, the Toreador Song, with security and requisite hubris. We want to love Micaela, Don Jose’s shy girlfriend from his village, who braves dangerous mountains to find him. Cuban-American soprano Elaine Alvarez is lovely in the role, commanding the stage during her appearances.

Soprano Jennifer Jakob and mezzo Emily Fons play Carmen’s fellow outlaws Frasquita and Mercedes with enthusiasm and distinction. They are both in their first year at Lyric’s Ryan Opera Center for young artists, and their voices mesh marvelously.

Special mention must be made of Lyric’s superb chorus. Whether singing separately in male and female groups or together, the voices were polished, smooth and beautifully blended. Applause to Donald Nally for his fine work. “Carmen” requires a children’s chorus, expertly filled by about two dozen members of the Chicago Children’s Choir, prepared by Josephine Lee. Some of the youngsters did cartwheels across the stage as they entered!

French conductor Alain Altinoglu leads the Lyric Opera Orchestra in a score so familiar it could be a cliche. Under his baton, however, the orchestra made Bizet’s music fresh and compelling.

The opera is in French with English super-titles. Lyric’s “Carmen” runs three hours and forty-five minutes with two intermissions. But the music and the drama are so accessible and exciting that time flies by. Take Metra, you’ll arrive in a good mood and will have plenty of company on the way home.

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