Canadian Opera Company’s new production of “Carmen” is everything you want in a story. Love, Drama, Heartbreak, and Bull-Fighting. Led by American mezzo soprano heavyweight J’Nai Bridges in the titular role, “Carmen” tells the story of the title character, who is her own person but lives in a world dominated by the men around her.
Working at a cigar factory (and a low-key smuggler), she yearns for the attention of Don José (played by Argentina-born tenor Marcelo Puente), but he routinely brushes her off. But eventually, José falls for her when Carmen is arrested, and later allowed to escape from jail by José, after getting into a melee with a fellow factory worker.
Suddenly a whirlwind romance strikes between Carmen and José as she serves him with an ultimatum of either escaping the city and setting off for the mountains with her band of smugglers, or staying, and continuing to serve as a low-level soldier. Initially torn between his military duties and his infatuation with Carmen, he joins her merry band of smugglers and they set off. However, things don’t go smoothly between the new couple as José becomes domineering and possessive, which sets off alarm bells for Carmen.
A love fatal four way soon emerges as it is revealed that popular bullfighter, Escamillo, followed the couple and the smugglers through the mountains to find Carmen, along with Micaëla, who is José’s original beloved. Micaëla tells José the sad news that his mother is dying as they venture off together leaving Escamillo, and Carmen behind.
Suddenly, it’s the day of the biggest bull-fight of Escamillo’s career as the sun is beating down on the capacity crowd. And all-the-while Carmen and Escamillo are professing their undying love to each other, a desperate Don José creeps in as he demands Carmen return to him. Things go sideways, and Don José stabs Carmen as the crowd roars in the stands.
Despite clocking in at over three hours long, “Carmen” was a well-performed production with breakout performances by the aforementioned Puente, and Bridges. Bridges in particular had a captivating stage presence as she fluttered effortlessly from scene to scene in some of the most beautiful dresses including a dazzling red number during the tavern sequence, and her white off-the-shoulder dress worn prominently during the production’s final sequences.
Another high point of the production is the set and lighting design. Originally designed by Michael Yeargan, who has received numerous Tony Award nominations for productions ranging from The King and I, Golden Boy, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, South Pacific, and more, and with lighting designed by Jason Hand, who has lit productions for the Vancouver Opera, the Edmonton Opera, and the Minnesota Opera Company, and who has been nominated eight times for the Dora Awards for Outstanding Lighting Design, the production team was top notch. Yeargan’s designs looked marvellous with the notable set pieces between the tavern sequence and the final bull-fight sequence, with the latter’s effective use of space and angles to make everything seem larger than life. Additionally, Hand’s lighting design transported you to a tropical sun-soaked town as he used many warm colours to make the time and place come alive.
Overall, the Canadian Opera Company’s new production of “Carmen” is ultimately a sad tale of two doomed lovers on a path of destruction. But with the enthralling performances, and the top-notch design, “Carmen” is a must-see.
“Carmen” runs until November 4th, 2022 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto. Buy tickets here.