15 January 2017

PERFORMANCE REVIEW: Georges Bizet — CARMEN (S. Piques Eddy, D. Vania, D. Pershall, M. Whittington, J. Martinson, S. Foley Davis, D. Hartmann, S. MacLeod, J. Wright, T. Federle; Greensboro Opera, 13 January 2017)

IN REVIEW: Mezzo-soprano SANDRA PIQUES EDDY in the title rôle (left) and tenor DINYAR VANIA as Don José (right) in Greensboro Opera's production of Georges Bizet's CARMEN, January 2017 [Photo © by Greensboro Opera]GEORGES BIZET (1838 – 1876): CarmenSandra Piques Eddy (Carmen), Dinyar Vania (Don José), Melinda Whittington (Micaëla), David Pershall (Escamillo), Joann Martinson (Frasquita), Stephanie Foley Davis (Mercédès), Donald Hartmann (Zuniga), Scott MacLeod (Le Dancaïre), Jacob Ryan Wright (Le Remendado), Ted Federle (Moralès); Members of Greensboro Youth Chorus, Greensboro Opera Chorus; Greensboro Opera Orchestra; Ted Taylor, conductor [David Holley, Stage Director; James Bumgardner, Chorus Master; Franco Colavecchia, Scenic Designer; Jeff Neubauer, Lighting Designer and Technical Director; Susan Memmott Allred, Costume Designer; Greensboro Opera, UNCG Auditorium, Greensboro, North Carolina, USA; Friday, 13 January 2017]

Few premières in the history of opera have triggered more extensive hyperbole, theorizing, analysis, and sheer Romantic yarning than the first performance of Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Introduced to the discerning Parisian audience at the famed Opéra-Comique on 3 March 1875, Carmen suffered a difficult birth that left the score and its sensitive composer battered and bruised. Many accounts would have modern observers believe that the opera’s première was an unmitigated fiasco that undermined Bizet’s spiritual and physical health and sent him to an early grave. Indeed, it was just less than three months after Carmen’s opening that Bizet died, a misfortune allegedly supernaturally foreseen by the first Carmen during the Act Three card reading scene. It should be noted that this premonition transpired during the thirty-third performance of the opera. Scandal is often the most productive tool of propaganda, and first-night audiences and critics still accustomed to the formulae of Auber, Halévy, Meyerbeer, and Gounod were undoubtedly scandalized by the myriad of musical and dramatic innovations in Bizet’s setting of Henri Meilhac’s and Ludovic Halévy’s adaptation of Prosper Mérimée’s like-named novella. Regardless of contemporary critical reaction to the opera, Carmen having amassed thirty-three performances at the Opéra-Comique within ninety days of the première is representative of the kind of ‘failure’ to which many creative artists might aspire. Still, Bizet was disappointed by the reception that Carmen received from the musical community, and that disappointment surely took a toll on his precarious health. Had the delicate young composer, not yet thirty-seven years old at the time of his death, witnessed Greensboro Opera’s January 2017 production of his beloved opera, perhaps he might have taken strength from the endearment that his score inspired. If there was uncertainty about Carmen’s merits in 1875, there was none about the enduring magnestism of Bizet’s magnum opus or the complete success of Greensboro Opera’s performance of it.

Mérimée’s Carmen is hardly Fifty Shades of Grey, but the novella is a work of stark brutality—starker and more brutal than Bizet’s Carmen reflects, in fact, the composer and his librettists having intentionally blunted the edges of the principal characterizations. Don José in particular is far more sympathetic in Bizet’s Carmen than in Mérimée’s, in the context of which he is a homicidal bandit even before encountering Carmen. Brought to the stage under the guidance of Greensboro Opera’s Artistic Director David Holley, Greensboro’s operatic savior, this production of Carmen beautifully and creatively eschewed modern trends in directorial enterprise by evocatively recreating Carmen’s Andalucía. First seen at Chautauqua Opera, Franco Colavecchia’s sets filled the UNCG Auditorium stage with the essence of Spain, their earth tones providing a vivid but unobtrusive backdrop for the coruscating passions of the opera’s drama. Likewise, Susan Memmott Allred’s costumes, designed for Utah Opera, exuded the sabor picante of Sevilla without subjecting the cast to an evening of discomfort or embarrassment. ​The scenic representation of Lillas Pastia’s tavern at the start of Act Two was markedly enhanced by a picturesque paso doble choreographed by Michael Job and splendidly danced by Maria-Elena Surprenant and D. Jerome Wells. A singer himself, Holley is reliably attentive to the physiological demands of singing and conceives his stagings with this in mind. His Carmen, thoughtfully illuminated by Jeff Neubauer’s lighting designs, exuded compendious acquaintance with Bizet’s score, understanding of the opera’s dramatic and historical contexts, and an abiding sense of responsibility for supporting his cast. The product of that responsibility was a performance notable for deftness and effectiveness of ensemble and its fidelity to the composer’s music and librettists’ words.

Presiding in the orchestra pit was Texas-born conductor Ted Taylor, a member of the faculty of Yale University’s esteemed School of Music who is recognized as one of America’s finest collaborators with singers, whether on the podium or at the keyboard. Challenged by a rehearsal period disrupted by the effects of a winter storm, Taylor and the Greensboro Opera Orchestra delivered a performance of Bizet’s score that immediately established and unerringly maintained the momentum that a performance must possess in order for the opera’s tragic narrative to engage the listener. Taylor’s choices of tempi and command of rubato, judiciously employed, were consistently commendable, the organic course of the drama—one of Bizet’s greatest achievements and one for which he does not receive sufficient credit—propelled but never pushed. It was largely owing to Taylor’s handling of the score that the performance conveyed the humor, inventiveness, and grandeur of Bizet’s music.

String playing in the opera’s raucous Prélude was unsettled, and instances of ragged ensemble noticeably but harmlessly recurred elsewhere in the performance. To an extent, Carmen falls victim to the curse of popularity: exceptionally popular works often tend to be deemed far easier than they actually are, and the strings’ efforts were unfailingly committed even when the results were less praiseworthy that the concentration. There was no lack of spirit in the orchestra’s performance of the first Entr’acte, its rhythms tautly executed by Taylor and the musicians. The superb wind playing in the exquisitely beautiful second Entr’acte drew audible murmurs of appreciation from the audience, and, conjuring an atmosphere of tranquility, the piece ably served as a distinctly-contrasted backdrop to the ire that boils in the act’s final minutes. Likewise, the horn obbligato in Micaëla’s Act Three aria was played by principal hornist Abigail Pack with excellent intonation and artful phrasing. The third Entr’acte, an Aragonaise that would not be out of place in Manuel Penella’s El gato montés, received from Taylor and the orchestra a buoyant reading. In opera, passion and perfection are not always wholly compatible, but this performance exhibited that an earnest abundance of the former compensates for a marginal lack of the latter.

Impeccably prepared by their director, Ann K. Doyle, members of Greensboro Youth Chorus proved themselves to be consummate professionals despite the dates on their birth certificates. They sang the Chœur des gamins, ‘Avec la garde montante, nous arrivons, nous voilà,’ charmingly and contributed boisterously to the scene outside of the plaza de toros at the start of Act Four. Their adult counterparts, drilled by chorus master James Bumgardner, sang fantastically whether portraying soldiers, cigarette girls, or townspeople. The gentlemen’s performance of the soldiers’ ‘Sur la place chacun passe, chacun vient, chacun va’ was sonorous, and the ladies’ account of the Chœur des cigarières, ‘Dans l’air, nous suivons des yeux la fumée, la fumée,’ was captivating. In the finales of Acts Two and Three, the choral singing was thrilling. The difficult rhythms in Act Four defeat many choristers but not this group: here and elsewhere in this Carmen, they sang better than the choruses of some of the world’s most famous opera companies.

IN PERFORMANCE: Mezzo-soprano SANDRA PIQUES EDDY as Carmen (right) and tenor DINYAR VANIA as Don José (left) in Greensboro Opera’s production of Georges Bizet’s CARMEN, January 2017 [Photo © by Greensboro Opera]Les amants condamnés: Mezzo-soprano Sandra Piques Eddy as Carmen (right) and tenor Dinyar Vania as Don José (left) in Greensboro Opera’s production of Georges Bizet’s Carmen, January 2017
[Photo © by Greensboro Opera]

The Moralès of baritone Ted Federle, a graduate of both the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and the A.J. Fletcher Opera Institute at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, seized his opportunities to make a positive impression in Act One, launching ‘À la porte du corps de garde’ with firm, resonant tone. Cheeky insinuations oozed from his dulcet voicing of ‘Regardez donc cette petite qui semble vouloir nous parler,’ and the boyish glee of his ‘Non, ma charmante, il n’est pas là’ in response to Micaëla’s query about Don José’s whereabouts left no doubt concerning Moralès’s willingness—no, eagerness—to substitute for José in whichever activities Micaëla had in mind. A suggestion of wistfulness blended with licentiousness in Federle’s delivery of ‘L’oiseau s’envole, on s’en console,’ adding a pang of loneliness to his obvious longing for female companionship. French vowels suited Federle’s lovely lyric voice, and he wore Moralès’s uniform handsomely.

The smugglers Le Dancaïre and Le Remendado were entrusted to a pair of wonderful singers whose curricula vitarum also contain North Carolina connections, baritone and High Point University faculty member Scott MacLeod and tenor Jacob Ryan Wright, another UNCG alumnus and scholar at the UNCSA A.J. Fletcher Opera Institute. Bravely singing despite battling influenza, MacLeod reaffirmed his artistic integrity by singing not just capably but excellently. He may well have collapsed offstage in illness-exasperated exhaustion, but when on stage he radiated energy and good vocal health. In the Act Two scene chez Lillas Pastia, he voiced ‘Pas trop mauvaises les nouvelles, et nous pouvons encore faire quelques beaux coups!’ wittily. In the sparkling Quintet and throughout Act Three, both he and Wright satisfied musically and convinced dramatically. Wright’s reedy tenor and MacLeod’s flexible baritone intertwined attractively, and they made most winsome partners in crime.

One of the foremost accomplishments of Sir Rudolf Bing’s storied two-decade tenure as General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera was the cultivation of a true company of well-trained singers for supporting rôles who could be called upon to step into larger assignments when circumstances so dictated. A rôle like Zuniga in Carmen could therefore be entrusted to singers of the caliber of Osie Hawkins, Norman Scott, and Morley Meredith, a now-extinct boon to MET performances resurrected in Greensboro with the casting of bass-baritone Donald Hartmann as the dragoons’ licentious lieutenant. In his Act One exchange with José, ‘C’est bien là, n’est-ce pas, dans ce grand bâtiment, que travaillent les cigarières,’ Hartmann goaded his distracted colleague, and with ‘Ce qui t’occupe, ami, je le sais bien: une jeune fille charmante, qu’on appelle Micaëla, jupe bleue et natte tombante’ he amusingly provoked José into confessing that his thoughts were occupied by Micaëla. Ordering José to bind Carmen’s hands and conduct her to prison after her fight in the cigarette factory, Hartmann’s singing of ‘C’est dommage, c’est grand dommage, car elle est gentille vraiment!’ was delightful, his Zuniga never more in his element than when personifying hypocrisy. Admonishing Carmen in Act Two for choosing José, a mere soldier, rather than an officer—himself, that is—with ‘Le choix n’est pas heureux; c’est se mésallier de prendre le soldat quand on a l’officier,’ this natural comedian and not the projected supertitle earned the audience’s laughter. Later, acquiescing at gunpoint to Carmen and her cohorts, he bade the performance adieu with his trademark spot-on timing and saturnine timbre. Stating that Hartmann sang well is like saying that oceans are deep, but his Zuniga was a burst of sunlight in Carmen’s smoky world, ever a cad but never a clown.

Singing Mercédès and Frasquita, mezzo-soprano Stephanie Foley Davis, one of central North Carolina’s musical treasures, and native North Dakotan soprano and highly respected local pedagogue Joann Martinson infused Act Two with a potent dose of gypsy grit, reveling in their lines in the Quintet and finale. Both ladies sang dashingly in Act Three, not least in the card-reading Trio, in which their refrains of ‘Mêlons! Coupons! Rien, c’est cela! Trois cartes ici... Quatre là!’ first established the playful mood of the scene and later sought to reclaim it after Carmen’s fateful turn with the cards. Martinson’s radiant top B♭s and Cs in ensembles were matched by Foley Davis’s excursions into her dark-chocolate lower register. One of the most emotionally-charged details of the production was Frasquita’s and Mercédès’s final farewell to Carmen in Act Four: having seen Don José lurking in the crowd, her friends intuited that Carmen’s death knell was sounding, and their desperate pleas for her to flee quickly transformed into heartfelt goodbyes. Both Martinson and Foley Davis are significant talents, and their performances significantly boosted the already-high benchmark of this Carmen.

An alumna of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, by the campus of which institution Greensboro Opera’s Carmen was hosted, soprano Melinda Whittington treated the near-capacity audience to a portrayal of the innocent Micaëla that delved further into the character’s psyche than most conventional operatic ingénue interpretations manage or attempt to do. Deflecting Moralès’s flirtation in the Act One scene in which she seeks José among the soldiers on duty, this Micaëla was polite to a fault, clinging to her serene decorum as a defense against impropriety. Having located her martial swain, Whittington sang ‘Oui, je parlerai; ce que l'on m'a donné je vous le donnerai’ in the duet with José gorgeously, her projection a model of proper placement of French vowels in the mask. The sweetness with which she uttered ‘Un baiser pour son fils! José, je vous le rends, comme je l'ai promis’ was touching, the intimacy of the sentiment imparted with absolute sincerity. Though in a purely musical sense it is perhaps the single finest number in the score, rarely is Micaëla’s aria in Act Three, ‘Je dis, que rien ne m’épouvante,’ the zenith of a performance of Carmen, but Whittington’s traversal of the aria, crowned with a phenomenal top B, deservedly received the most enthusiastic ovation of the evening. Unusually, the soprano’s plea for José to return to the arms of his dying mother in the Act Three finale seemed even to briefly move Carmen. Whittington voiced ‘Moi, je viens te chercher’ without artifice, ascending to a perfectly-controlled climactic top B♭. By insightfully depicting Micaëla as a smart, resilient young woman whose purity is a conscious choice rather than a byproduct of prudishness, Whittington raised the stakes in this Carmen. Often, why Don José’s head is so easily turned by Carmen is all too apparent, but the tragedy in this performance was intensified by the woman he discarded singing so beautifully and poignantly.

IN PERFORMANCE: Baritone DAVID PERSHALL as Escamillo (center) in Greensboro Opera's production of Georges Bizet's CARMEN, January 2017 [Photo © by Greensboro Opera]Bravo, toréro: Baritone David Pershall as Escamillo (center) in Greensboro Opera’s production of Georges Bizet’s Carmen, January 2017
[Photo © by Greensboro Opera]

Debonair baritone David Pershall brought to the arrogant, self-assured toreador Escamillo precisely the vocal and histrionic panache that the rôle requires. Already a seasoned artist among whose leading ladies in theatres throughout the world, including the Metropolitan Opera and Wiener Staatsoper, are luminaries such as Nelly Miricioiu and Anna Netrebko, Pershall gave Escamillo—a character who, when sung by unimaginative vocalists, can all too easily devolve into a cipher in sequins—a bravado-driven presence. His entrance in Act Two, heralded by the chorus, is one of the most memorable in opera, and Pershall’s confident, ringing performance of the famous Chanson du toréro, ‘Votre toast, je peux vous le rendre,’ was unforgettable. The baritone’s impactful top Fs electrified the auditorium more reliably than the power grid, and his top G in the Act Three duet with José, initiated with a smugly ironic ‘Quelques lignes plus bas et tout était fini,’ wielded a force like Krakatoa’s. In the Act Four scene before the bullfight, Pershall’s singing throbbed with swagger and raw masculinity, but there was also genuine tenderness in his conversation with Carmen. There was a loving heart beneath the proud exterior. This, as with Whittington’s Micaëla, sharpened appreciation of both the character and the artist portraying him. In Spanish culture, great matadors have often been among the most popular celebrities, and Pershall enriched Greensboro Opera’s Carmen with an Escamillo worthy of the front pages of El mundo and El país.

Expanding his presence in the operatic activities of the Piedmont regions of North Carolina and Virginia, where he has been heard in recent months as Alfredo in Opera Roanoke’s production of Verdi’s La traviata and Cavaradossi in Piedmont Opera’s Tosca, tenor Dinyar Vania brought to Greensboro Opera’s Carmen an interpretation of Don José in which honor and brutality were in near-constant conflict. In his discourse with Zuniga in Act One, Vania’s José articulated ‘Mon officier, je n’en sais rien, et m’occupe assez peu de ces galanteries’ with humility. The change in the volatile young man’s demeanor after his first meeting with Carmen was therefore all the more pronounced. The wonder that flooded the tenor’s voice and expression as he sang ‘Quels regards! Quelle effronterie! Cette fleur-là m’a fait l’effet d’une balle qui m’arrivait!’ after receiving the flower from Carmen was the first glimpse of infatuation. His reverie broken by Micaëla’s arrival, Vania’s José could only partially focus on his girlfriend and her news of his mother. Still, in their duet, Vania sang ‘Parle-moi de ma mère!’ yearningly, the sinewy strength of the voice softened by expansive phrasing. In the act’s final minutes, convinced to aid Carmen in her escape at the expense of his own freedom, Vania’s increasingly white-hot vocalism divulged that obsession had taken root.

First heard in Act Two from afar, Vania voiced ‘Halte là! Qui va là? Dragon d'Alcala!’ as José approached Lillas Pastia’s tavern with the elation of a virile young soldier en route to a rendezvous with his lover. The subsequent duet with Carmen magnified the tension already beginning to fracture their relationship, mirrored in vocalism of bronzed brawn. Vania’s performance of José’s andantino aria ‘La fleur que tu m’avais jetée’—not designated as an aria in Bizet’s manuscript, incidentally—was impassioned but impressively restrained, the ascent to its notorious top B♭ handled with finesse and astonishing ease. Throughout the performance, Vania’s upper register was deployed with unforced vigor, the evenness of timbre and support from bottom to top recalling the best singing of Mario del Monaco. In both the Act Two finale and the opening of Act Three, Vania made José’s desperation palpable. He answered the bullfighter’s affable irony with full-throated threats in the duet with Escamillo, the hospitality of his initial ‘Je connais votre nom, soyez le bienvenu; mais vraiment, camarade, vous pouviez y rester’ replaced with hostility when he realized that he was Carmen’s cast-off paramour to whom Escamillo referred. Here, too, Vania’s top B♭ was exhilarating.

Verdi is justly credited with having created one of opera’s most novel scenes with the ‘Miserere’ that follows Leonora’s aria in Act Four of Il trovatore. No less novel is the final scene of Carmen, in which the protagonists’ final struggle transpires in counterpoint with the offstage exclamations of the crowd observing the bullfight. Reacting to Carmen’s declaration of being oblivious to José’s anger, Vania sang ‘Je ne menace pas, j’implore, je supplie; notre passé, Carmen, je l’oublie’ with eloquence, his José clearly believing in that moment that his intention was to win back Carmen’s heart instead of plunging his dagger into it. The moment of his psychotic break and murder of the object of his desire was shockingly visceral. There were no screams and stock gestures, but so visceral was the strike of his blade that the blow lifted Carmen off the stage like a doll. The Otello-like ‘Ah! Carmen! ma Carmen adorée!’ was the anguished cry of an irreparably broken man, sung rather than shouted. Bringing to his rôle a voice of dimensions virtually ideal for the music, Vania sang with animalistic fervor, but it was the flawed humanity of his performance that made his not just a well-sung but a deeply affecting Don José.

The array of different voice types that have graced the world’s stages in the title rôle of Carmen is mind-boggling. From the earthy mezzo-sopranos of Gladys Swarthout and Risë Stevens and the Gallic sopranos of Emma Calvé and Zélie de Lussan to the Wagnerian voices of Lilli Lehmann, Olive Fremstad, and Régine Crespin and utterly unique talents like Geraldine Farrar, Florence Easton, Maria Jeritza, Rosa Ponselle, and Lily Djanel, Carmen has appealed to artists of diverse Fächer and schools of singing. Bruna Castagna, Fedora Barbieri, and Giulietta Simionato, three of the greatest legitimate Verdi mezzo-sopranos of the Twentieth Century, were acclaimed Carmens, and Bizet’s eponymous gypsy was an early Auckland rôle for pre-Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, before the start of her international career. Carmen was created by Célestine Galli-Marié, a high mezzo-soprano whose surname, like that of Cornélie Falcon, became synonymous with a Fach comprised of rôles for which she was acclaimed, most notably the name parts in Thomas’s Mignon and Offenbach’s Fantasio, and this succinctly demonstrates the singularity of Carmen’s music: so unique was the voice of the singer for whom the part was written that, not unlike the character herself, she fomented her own mythology.

IN PERFORMANCE: Mezzo-soprano SANDRA PIQUES EDDY as the title heroine in Greensboro Opera's production of Georges Bizet's CARMEN, January 2017 [Photo © by Greensboro Opera]Oui, elle est gentille vraiment: Mezzo-soprano Sandra Piques Eddy as the title heroine in Greensboro Opera’s production of Georges Bizet’s Carmen, January 2017
[Photo © by Greensboro Opera]

Among the ranks of notable Carmens, it was Teresa Berganza’s portrayal that was brought to mind by the feisty Carmen of mezzo-soprano Sandra Piques Eddy. Her singing of her first recitative in Act One [the Guiraud recitatives were utilized], ‘Quand je vous aimerai,’ introduced a Carmen who teased without malice: her barbs were made for eliciting reactions, not for drawing blood. Piques Eddy purred and growled ‘L’amour est un oiseau rebelle que nul ne peut apprivoiser,’ the well-known Habanera, her F♯s and Gs at the top of the stave secure and the quality of the voice as superlative at piano as at forte. Jockeying for dominance in the melodrama with José and Zuniga, she dispatched ‘Tralalalala, coupe-moi, brûle-moi, je ne te dirai rien’ insouciantly but with an iron grip on its effects on her audience. The seductive Séguedille, ‘Près des remparts de Séville,’ was in Piques Eddy’s performance like the piping of a snake charmer: deaf men might well have been hypnotized by the serpentine lilt of this siren’s song.

Transported to Lillas Pastia’s tavern in Act Two, the beguilingly beautiful mezzo-soprano intoned the Chanson bohème, ‘Les tringles des sistres tintaient avec un éclat métallique,’ with feline grace. Joining her comrades in the Quintet, this Carmen was unquestionably sincere in her statement of ‘Mes amis, je serais fort aise de partir avec vous ce soir’ despite their good-natured mocking. Taunting José in their duet upon his arrival at the tavern, Piques Eddy made Carmen’s contemplation of José’s flower aria a marvel of shifting emotions, seeming to sense that she was already in over her head. Their quarrel interrupted by Zuniga’s unwitting arrival, this quick-thinking Carmen silenced Don José and then dealt with Zuniga with a slyly dangerous ‘Bel officier! bel officier, l’amour vous joue en ce moment un assez vilain tour.’ There was no doubting that the core tenet of Piques Eddy’s Carmen’s philosophy was ‘La liberté,’ and her singing in the Act Two finale was a rousing paean to the freedom of her bohemian lifestyle.

It was in Act Three that Piques Eddy’s Carmen was subtlest. She sought refuge from her torment in ensembles, subjugating her individuality to the relative safety of community. In the Trio with Frasquita and Mercédès, she voiced ‘Carreau, pique...la mort! J’ai bien lu...moi d’abord’ with abandon, and her brief musing on the unchangeability of destiny, a passage that could almost have been extracted from an opera by Händel, was wrenching. After bitterly mocking José in the act’s finale and demanding that he return with Micaëla to his native village and his dying mother’s bedside, Piques Eddy’s Carmen broke down in tears as José fled. Precisely which emotions assailed her can only be conjectured, but the singer gave the character a vulnerability that she often lacks, the gypsy’s soul as upended in that awful moment as the soldier’s.

In progression, Act Four presented tableaux of Carmen in each of the consequential relationships that define her existence in the opera. First entering by Escamillo’s side and then greeting the anxious Frasquita and Mercédès, she symbolically reconciled present and past, already cognizant of what fate had in store for her. The expressive dignity with which Piques Eddy voiced ‘L’on m’avait avertie que tu n’étais pas loin, que tu devais venir; l’on m’avait même dit de craindre pour ma vie mais je suis brave et n'ai pas voulu fuir’ was remarkable, the character’s poise and the singer’s personality indivisible. She fired ‘Carmen jamais n’a menti’ at José with the unstoppable fury of a landslide. She could speak only the truth when a lie might have spared her, but Piques Eddy was a Carmen for whom the inescapable slavery of living dishonestly was a sentence worse than death. Like her colleagues, she sang extraordinarily well, but hers ultimately was not a performance in which the notes were the emphasis. When she was on the UNCG Auditorium stage, she was Carmen, and the notes came not from her throat but from her heart.

That Bizet’s Carmen is one of opera’s finest scores cannot be denied even by those who do not appreciate or enjoy it. In its ebullient scenes, there are hints of Mozart, Schubert, and Brahms, and Saint-Saëns and Ravel hide in the sophisticatedly Gallic melodies of the opera’s most lyrical passages. Wagner is there, tiptoeing through the motivic writing, and Tchaikovsky peeks from the orchestra pit. Nevertheless, the voice that emerges most clearly is no one’s but Bizet’s. Often, though, it is difficult, sometimes even impossible, to discern during performances why Carmen’s popularity never wanes. At her core, Carmen is not as complicated as is often suggested: she lives to love and loves to live, and some productions stand in her way. Its musical standards higher than those achieved by many companies with far deeper pockets, Greensboro Opera’s Carmen encouraged unfeigned characterizations, not abstract concepts. Carmen’s magic does not require complex spells and exotic potions. Allow Bizet’s characters to sing the music that he composed for them without impediments, and they work their magic. In Greensboro, how it worked!

IN PERFORMANCE: Mezzo-soprano SANDRA PIQUES EDDY as Carmen and tenor DINYAR VANIA as Don José in Greensboro Opera’s production of Georges Bizet’s CARMEN, January 2017 [Photo © by Greensboro Opera]Ah! Carmen! ma Carmen adorée: Mezzo-soprano Sandra Piques Eddy as Carmen and tenor Dinyar Vania as Don José in Greensboro Opera’s production of Georges Bizet’s Carmen, January 2017
[Photo © by Greensboro Opera]