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POWERFUL OPENING NIGHT FOR CINNABAR'S CARMEN
by Vaida Falconbridge
Saturday, June 1, 2013
OPERA REVIEW
Cinnabar Theater / Saturday, June 1, 2013
Cast and production personnel listed in May 31 Calendar.

Soprano Rebecca Krouner

POWERFUL OPENING NIGHT FOR CINNABAR'S CARMEN

by Vaida Falconbridge
Saturday, June 1, 2013

When "Carmen" debuted at the Opera Comique in 1875, it was poorly received. Its composer, Georges Bizet, died a few months later, thinking he had written another failure. Now widely considered the most popular opera in the world, "Carmen" was excellently performed and given an enthusiastic reception by the sell-out crowd at Cinnabar Theater in Petaluma on opening night May 31.

The opera is scheduled for several more performances through June 16, with sold-out ticket sales already--so much so that another performance has been added for Wednesday evening, June 12, at 7:30 p.m. Note: This is code for "Don't wait too long to get your tickets."

For those who have not already attended a performance at Cinnabar Theater, it is a small house that perfectly lends itself to intimate stagings. The audience is so close to the performers that it almost feels like they could be absorbed into the drama before their eyes. None of that "barrier" feeling one necessarily gets in a big opera house with its grand stage, brocade curtains, and deep orchestra pit. All Cinnabar events are in English.

Right from the start, soldiers, flirtatious women, smugglers, townspeople, and merchants all mixed it up with plenty of activity and stage business, such as pickpockets targeting distracted soldiers on the make with highly cooperative cigarette girls. The entire cast, including several children from Cinnabar's youth program, filled the plaza next to the cigarette factory. Cinnabar performs this opera in English, so there was no need for supertitles.

We meet most of the characters in the first few minutes we get to meet the Gypsy Carmen herself. Played by mezzo Rebecca Krouner--who is altogether vocally, physically and temperamentally correct for the role--Carmen comes out dressed in fiery red, as she is throughout most of the opera, as opposed to the khaki of the soldiers' uniforms and the mostly earth tones worn by the rest of the cast, who are nonetheless well-costumed. By the second half of the "Habanera," Carmen's head scarf came off and her long black hair tumbled out.

Ms. Krouner is possessed of a powerful voice of wide range and dynamics, with a slightly smoky timbre and a masterful transition into an ultra-rich and exciting low register, where she has ample opportunity to demonstrate in her several arias. Perfect casting here.

Don Jose is ably sung by tenor Mark Kratz, although the true beauty and color of his voice didn't really start to shine through until the "Flower Song" and duo scene with Carmen in Act Two. He portrayed well the tortured, obsessive character of the soldier who abandons his career, honor, fiancée and family for love of the free-spirited Gypsy girl. Micaela, Don Jose's childhood sweetheart and fiancée, is beautifully sung by Kelly Britt, who has a laser-focused, steely color to her voice that carries well all the way up to her clear ringing high B's in her big aria, and gives conviction to Micaela's courage.

Baritone Jason Detwiler knocks it out of the park singing Escamillo, the matinee-idol toreador character. He brings a tall, compelling stage persona to the role, as well as dark, burnished, thrilling vocal texture and exciting high notes.

The secondary singing roles are also well cast: Will Hart Meyer as Morales, Paul Cheak as Zuniga, Miguel Evangelista and Brandon Casbeer as smugglers, sopranos Julia Hathaway and Kimberly Anderson as Carmen's nubile friends and fellow smugglers--they all have well-schooled voices with lovely tone and excellent projection. All the singers displayed uniformly clear, understandable diction.

Set design was minimal but effective. With just a few added accessories, the stage quickly took on the look of a town plaza, the tavern of Lillas Pastia, a mountain pass, and close proximity to the Seville bullring. The starkness of the set particularly lent itself to the dramatic death scene at the end of the opera. Blocking was very good and very detailed--it was never static onstage for two and a half hours. Conductor Mary Chun and the 11-piece orchestra were excellent, keeping good pacing throughout, and never overpowered the singers.

All in all, a very impressive production, and another well-deserved feather-in-the-cap for Cinnabar.