If you’ve never been to a performance by Edmonton’s Mercury Opera then you may be surprised to find that there is no theatre balcony, no tiny opera glasses. The company’s MO is producing operas set in small venues specifically selected to complement the production—and its mounting of Carmen is no exception.
The opera’s traditional working-class setting—a square flanked by a tobacco factory and a guardhouse—is updated, with the first act set in the Commodore Restaurant on Jasper Avenue. The fiery Carmen and her friends are the diner’s wait and kitchen staff, while her lover-to-be José and the other soldiers are now border and immigration patrol officers. The Commodore offers some good acoustics and the quaint decor makes for a fun set, especially when combined with the simple but on-point costumes worn by the ‘diner staff,’ who did actually wait some tables leading up to the performance.
Following the end of the first act, the audience is led through downtown Edmonton to the backdoor of Chez Pierre Cabaret, which doubles nicely as Casa Pedro, where Carmen and her friends carouse, sing, and dance in a display that’s sort of Stampede meets opera—an appropriate choice for the production.
The eponymous Carmen is played by Puerto Rican mezzo-soprano Laura Virella, who hits all the right notes—she’s flirtatious, sensual, sympathetic, full of fire and delivers a stellar vocal performance. Edmonton-based soprano Elise Noyes provides the perfect foil as Micaëla, the girl José’s mother wants him to marry, and delivers a sweet, moving performance.
The opera’s tragic hero, José, is played by tenor Boris Derow, who really sells his character’s change of heart when Carmen moves him from indifference to passion in the first act. At Saturday’s performance, Derow did falter on a couple of notes, but perhaps he was just having an off night. Overall his performance was very engaging.
Set to steal Carmen’s attention from José is Brazilian lyric baritone Jorge Trabanco as Escamillo, who is a bull rider in this version, rather than a bullfighter. Trabanco plays the part with the perfect amount of bravado and his rendition of the “Toreador Song” is a delight.
The rest of the ensemble also does a great job and overallMercury Opera’s Carmen is entertaining, inventive and offers an amazing musical performance.
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