If it had been a horse opera, the situation would have been perfect - the tall handsome stranger striding onto the scene and saving the day. But last night it was Bizet's "Carmen," Catholic University's new Summer Opera Theater Company production at the Hartke Theater, and the handsome hero was Escamillo, alias Glenn Cunningham, who arrived in the nick of time to save the show from the doldrums of uninspired singing, acting and costuming.

At his second-act appearance, the rest of the company seemed to take heart, although little could be done to salvage the ungainly first act and amateurish soldiers.

Carmen's girlfriends, sung by Elena Clancy and Ann Hart, turned out after a rather brittle beginning to be engaging actresses and good singers. The smugglers, Edward Randall and Ellwood Annaheim, revealed themselves as delightful comics, and a cast-wide costume change was at least an improvement over the first-act clutter.

Cunningham himself is an arresting figure who was clearly one of the few members of the troop who was comfortable out there in front of all those people. His toreador song was authoritative, and, although his voice took on an edge as the evening went on, it remained attractive and expressive.

As Micaela, Jung Ae Kim was the other principal who seemed vocally and emotionally on top of her role. Her voice at this time is large and quite lovely, and when she learns to move smoothly through phrases, she should be a knockout.

This leaves the leading roles of Carmen and Don Jose in limbo where, in fact, they were for this performance.

Marianna Busching demonstrated neither the vocal nor the physical sensousness to play this most sensuous character successfully. Carmen looked and sounded simply tough.

Clyde Battles as Don Jose came across as the total dupe, certainly not a man any red-blooded Carmen would waste a second one. He is billed as having an "Italianate" voice and unfortunately this seems to have encouraged him to end most of his phrases with gasping sobs.

On the podium, Robert Ricks was sometimes sabotaged by the vagaries of the chorus and sometimes by those of the orchestra. On the whole, however, he did a workmanlike job.

Russell Methemy's sets were very nice and the lighting worked well.

Five more performances extend through next week.