MAINE’S PORTOPERA CELEBRATED its twenty-second season with a vibrant production of Carmen, the opera that was also chosen for their first season in 1995. Far from shrinking from the demands of this powerhouse audience favorite, with its varied choruses (including a children’s chorus) and orchestral interludes, artistic director Dona Vaughn and conductor Stephen Lord pulled together their forces to create an exciting, dramatically convincing performance. The curtain rose on a simple set of curved walls designed by Judy Gailen, that Tyler Micoleau’s imaginative lighting transformed from barracks to mountain hideout and finally to the sun-baked perimeter of the bullring.
In the title role, Maya Lahyani made a sensuous Carmen, her rich mezzo seductively persuasive in the Habanera and Seguidilla, and quite chilling in Act III’s “en vain pour éviter…” In the early acts, Lahyani somewhat overdid the stereotypical hip-swiveling, but later in the opera her portrayal became powerful and gripping, particularly as she conveyed both Carmen’s bravado and her growing sense of doom. Tenor Adam Diegel, conversely, was most effective early on, when Don José is hesitant, torn between his duty and his passion, and less convincing as his increasing jealousy leads to violence. His Act II flower song was nicely modulated and well supported, free from the tightness that can mar his top range during intense passages. The opera’s final confrontation, staged thrillingly by Vaughn, brought out the best in both performers.
As Escamillo, baritone Edward Parks made a handsome and suave figure, singing the toreador’s aria with assurance, matching gesture to word with a fine sense of timing. Another standout was the Micaela of Amanda Woodbury. The simplicity of her realistic portrayal was matched by her warm, flexible soprano, especially moving in her Act III aria, “Je dis que rien ne m’épouvante.”
In the smaller roles, Kenneth Kellogg made a commanding Zuniga, and Jorell Williams was an appropriately gruff Morales. The appealing foursome of gypsies and smugglers was led by the bright soprano of Maeve Hoagland as Frasquita, and featured strong ensemble singing by Sahoko Sato, Robert Mellon and Lucas Levy. The sparkling Act II quintet was notable for its clarity as Lord held singers and orchestra to a lively pace.
As in past productions, the whole cast benefitted from Vaughn’s emphasis on realistic and nuanced performances, and her ability to move a large ensemble sensibly and smoothly to clarify and enhance the dramatic values of each scene. Lord’s sure hand in the pit elicited fine work from singers and orchestra, and did full justice to the dynamic range and sweep of Bizet’s score. —Cornelia Iredell