This has been the year of "Carmen" -- Brooks' "Carmen," Saura's "Carmen," Bizet's "Carmen." But the "Carmen" presented last night by the National Lyric Opera Company at the Warner Theatre was nobody's "Carmen."
Struggling opera companies all want to be in the big time, all at once. Reluctant to make the hard, real choices, they use big sets and lots of costumes and pretend they are the Metropolitan Opera. The pretense is only that; disappointment is the only great part of it. This "Carmen" was only a shadow of the real thing, with an earnest conductor and a struggling orchestra, too large a chorus that had not been rehearsed well, and a collection of singers who did not interact. There were no visible signs of direction or pace. It must have been frustrating for the performers; it certainly was depressing for the audience.
Sir Thomas Beecham once said that the basic rule of performance was that everyone play the same piece at the same time and in tune. The rule did not hold for this production. The missed entrances and exits were innumerable. The off-pitch singing and playing put the listener on edge. The static chorus members stared at the audience or at one another. There was nothing to see no matter where one looked. One watched it all in sadness because there was not a glimmer of enjoyment on stage.
Isola Jones sang Carmen. She has the voice and the looks, but she missed the character. Her seduction of Don Jose' was taken from "The Curse of the Cat People." In the third act she was costumed as Annie Oakley, going so far as to fix her hair when foretelling her own death in the fortune scene. She will someday be an excellent Carmen with that sumptuous, dramatic voice, and with help from a good director.
The other principals are best left in anonymity. They had no help from the direction or from the sets, which were much too large for the stage. And the stage was too crowded with chorus to allow for the movement of the action. Only two of the singers, Marie York Harbison as Frasquita and Patricia Fanara as Mercedes, really knew the music, the words and why they were on stage.
The brightest moment was the interpolation of the flamenco dancers of the Raquel Pen a Company. They were alive, rhythmic and skillful. Their presence helped, but not for long.