Barber is well-matched in her male castmates. Benjamin Bongers, last seen as Erik in "Der Fligende Hollander," returns for another tour de force performance as the hapless Corporal Don Jose, who abandons his sweet love Micaela for the tempestuous Carmen. It's a story that ends in tragedy. Bongers throws caution to the winds, using his powerful tenor to portray the terrible emotions and conflict that Don Jose goes through, with palpable effect.
Jason Detwiler charms as the arrogant toreador, Escamillo, wooing Carmen with his velvet vocals and macho posing. The role of dragoon captain Zuniga is amply filled by Carlos Aguilar, who shows off delightful acting skills as well as a beautiful, resonant bass. Another new voice for West Bay is Rebecca Sjowall in the role of Micaela. Her gorgeous liquid soprano perfectly matches the melancholy innocence of her character.
Even the second tier of voices is excellent: Shauna Fallihee as Frasquita, Kindra Scharich as Mercedes, Joaquin Quilez-Marin as Le Dancaire, and Samuel Read Levine as Le Remendado all provide superb vocal depth in their supporting roles. The Quintet in Act Two and the Tarot scene in Act Four are standouts because of their fine contributions.
The chorus includes an enthusiastic ensemble of children as well as dedicated locals who provide color and charming voices. There really isn't a weak link in all the performances.
But special kudos go to director David Cox for an incredibly rich staging, full of nuance, detail and layering. The scenes between Carmen and Don Jose are particularly stunning: vigorous, passionate, and physical. The final tragic scene pulls no punches, as Carmen is relentlessly pursued and bullied by Don Jose. The last few moments supply horrible clarity in the tragedy of her death. Cox should be invited back often; the originality and complexity of his staging is superb — fresh and exciting.
Conductor Michel Singher is also to be commended for the outstanding orchestral sound and for his work with the singers. Jean-Francois Revon creates a simple but effective series of ramps and steps that serve as the foundation for each setting, giving us sumptuous visual detail with splendid economy. Costumes by Beth Gilroy and lighting by Robert Ted Anderson add wonderful texture and atmosphere.
In short, this is a fabulous production — memorable and full of the magic of an exceptional performance.
What: Georges Bizet's opera "Carmen," presented by West Bay Opera
Where: Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto
When: Through Oct. 26. Performances are at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. Sundays.
Cost: Tickets are $55 in the front of the theater and $45 in back, for general admission; $40/$30 for seniors; and $25/$20 for youth and students.
Info: Go to www.wbopera.org or call 650-424-9999.
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