Recensie uit San Diego:
“Carmen” at La Jolla Playhouse
by Welton Jones
San Diego Arts Articles
Without the inspired, passionate genius of Georges Bizet, “Carmenâ€ is just another over-heated 19th Century romantic fantasy, fueled by an exotic setting and a heroine of excessive amorality.
The material can be coaxed to perform tricks — “Carmen Jones,â€ “Carmen: A Hip Hopera,â€ “Carmen on Iceâ€ — but Bizet is always there to bail out the pygmies with a “Habaneraâ€ here, a “Toreador’s Songâ€ there and enough steamy climaxes to satisfy the NATIONAL ENQUIRER.
Now, though, “You want climaxes?â€ John Ewbank seems to have asked. “I’ve got a whole trunk full of climaxes, enough for two long acts with no reprises!â€
Thus the La Jolla Playhouse version of “Carmen,â€ with book and choreography by Sarah Miles, lyrics and vocal arrangements by AnnMarie Milazzo and 30 of those Ewbank climaxes before one is reprised. As a finale.
Given La Jolla’s reputation for flashy staging, Franco Dragone’s somber direction seems pretty routine stuff for the guy who polished all the early Cirque du Soleil shows, including the first couple in Las Vegas.
He could have used some Bizet. WE, the audience, could have too.
Instead, we get “Les Miserablesâ€—meets—“West Side Story.â€ Without the turntable stage. Or the laughs.
Janien Valentine — pushy-sexy, endlessly energetic, laser-focused on the moment — makes Carmen persuasively capable of seducing any guy she chooses. And they do line up: Neal Benari as a likeable army captain, Caesar Samayoa as an especially offensive gypsy, Victor Wallace as the elegant and refined toreador and, of course, Jose — L’il Abner gone bad, as Ryan Valentine plays him.
There really aren’t any upbeat moments in Prosper Merimee’s 1845 novella. But there is the feral thrust of an irresistible predator crunching simple innocence that Bizet ratcheted into a hair-raising, cautionary, inevitable yet purging finale when order is restored.
(The splendid legacy of the opera is not just the music, either. When the final fatal knife falls, so does the curtain. In La Jolla, Jeffrey Klitz and his small but very electrified pit band must keep on sawing away at even MORE Ewbank climaxes while an interesting sand-fall effect which doesn’t work exactly right totally blunts any surviving dramatic edge.)
The highlights of this La Jolla version are dancey: a first-act frenzy for the ladies of the ensemble recalling Jerome Robbins’ “Americaâ€ from “West Side Storyâ€ and a second-act opener that looks suspiciously like a TV ad for Dos Eques beer. Whatever, it’s a fine troupe of dancers.
Most of the principal guys are stuck with the old “Les Misâ€ trick of casting baritones and requiring them to sing tenor. Valentine and Shelley Thomas (the standard wimpy Micaela) get more singable songs (except for a Jose-Micaela duet “What Is My Heart?â€ that NOBODY could sing).
Klara Zieglerova’s scenery is stark and full of odd nudges, in the dim and melodramatic lighting of Christopher Akerlind, but there are concepts that trail away into vagueness, like skeletal remains, hanging corpses, hooded figures, a pool of water. Everything seems ready for some Cirque quirks but Dragone’s direction stays earthbound and even prim.
The guys get better costumes from Suzy Benzinger than do the ladies, who look suspiciously like a squad of Old Town waitresses.
What to do now?
Maybe throw out seven or eight songs, consider a unified musical style, let Micaela get angry, reconsider Carmen’s finale costume, either illuminate or discard some of the busy background milling…
And possibly rethink lines such as, “When cholera struck, she worked day and night helping the nuns, though she will deny it.â€ That needs more clarification than any musical has time for.
Whatever the specific steps, a basic clue to what’s wrong is the laugh Carmen gets when she asks Micaela, making her finale entrance: “Who are YOU?â€ At least some of the audience sympathized.