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In Bel Cantanti mini opera festival at Catholic University, the women rule

By Joan Reinthaler,

This past weekend, Katerina Souvorova’s Bel Cantanti Opera and Catholic University’s Benjamin T. Rome School of Music collaborated on a mini opera festival that brought abbreviated versions of Bizet’s “Carmen,” Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” and an evening of arias and scenes to the tiny stage of the university’s Ward Hall.

“Carmen” opened Friday and, even with budget-conscious trimmings very much in evidence (a minimal set, costumes that might have been borrowed from trunks in someone’s attic and unfortunate lighting that bled out the surtitles to invisibility), there was a competent orchestra and some excellent singing. Emily Crockett, a mezzo with a luscious bloom to her voice and a coolly seductive stage presence, carried the evening in the title role, supported ably by her sidekicks, sopranos Katie Bransford and Natalie Nadus as Frasquita and Mercedes. As Micaela, the outsider in this opera’s love-quadrilateral, Laura Bass pleaded her case powerfully with a voice that sounded fresh and agile.

That these women could come on so provocatively to a group as wooden and unresponsive as the men in the cast, however, was quite remarkable. There wasn’t a soldier, a toreador or a smuggler among them who gave discernible evidence of life, much less passion. This has been a problem with the men in Bel Cantanti productions. Eric Gramatges, a decent tenor, couldn’t seem to muster more than stock gestures toward either of the women in his life. And Jye-Sung Moon, whose Escamilo, was, if possible, even less animated, had pitch problems all evening. Guillaume Tournaire directed this production, and his cast, all young singers early in their careers, could have used a lot more of his help in acting, blocking and tightening up the long gaps that interrupted the flow of the spoken English dialogue.

Joel Borrelli-Boudreau did a nice job with his small orchestra and in pacing the music, but he is a tall, angular man and, with no orchestra pit to hide in, his showy gyrations were a constant distraction.

Reinthaler is a freelance writer.

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