An opera company is unlikely to have a triumph, in the critical sense, by staging “Carmen,” but Georges Bizet’s story of passion and murder will fill a house. It worked for Virginia Opera, which staged the opera on Friday night at George Mason University Center for the Arts. With some talented singers and a handsome production, updated by director Tazewell Thompson to Franco-era Spain, it was bound to be a crowd-pleaser.
Mezzo-soprano Ginger Costa-Jackson, who came out of the Metropolitan Opera’s young artist program in 2012, cut a sexy figure in the title role. She gave every ounce of volume from her voice, from molten low notes to some pointed high ones, with only some fuzziness in the few runs as a drawback. She was matched in potency by the Micaela of soprano Corinne Winters, from Frederick, Md., who also made quite an impression in recent years at Wolf Trap Opera. Neither of the lead men was quite up to this competition, with Ryan Kuster’s Escamillo at the edge of control at the top of his voice and Dinyar Vania’s Don Jose plagued by intonation problems and a not-always-pretty tone quality.
The supporting cast, from the company’s emerging artist program, and the chorus were well marshaled — although, across the board, French pronunciation needed coaching. The orchestra, made up of musicians from the Richmond Symphony, was in fine form under the somewhat heavy but clear-gestured hand of conductor John Demain. Tazewell’s updating to the 1950s yielded some fun costumes (designed by Merrily Murray-Walsh), and the sets (David P. Gordon), which required three intermissions to make all of the changes, were convincing, particularly the mountain scene of the third act.
Downey is a freelance writer.