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Duende Eludes FGO’s ‘Carmen’

Written by: Fernando Landeros
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It is difficult to describe duende. Far from elf or goblin, in its literal translation from Spanish, it is the war of emotions being fought in our groin as we experience a work of art. Duende is irrational, sometimes dark, primal, and of course, supernatural. To have duende is to be able to invoke those forces from the soul, and make everyone present imbibe them.

Last Saturday evening, Florida Grand Opera opened its 75th season with Georges Bizet’s operatic masterpiece Carmen, a work that has duende boiling under its skin; but sadly, the cast could not bring it up to the surface.

Based on Prosper Mérimée’s eponymous novella about a Gypsy femme fatale taken to her death by her jealous lover, Carmen paints a masterful portrait of how passion devours our senses.

Unlike Mérimée, Bizet was never in Spain, and the music he composed for Carmen is very much French. He did, however, incorporate idioms used in flamenco music and a Spanish folk song or two for added flavor. Bizet’s genius lies in how well his music depicts the progression of emotions experienced by the characters throughout the work.

Carmen’s true protagonist is Don José, the lover that brings her to her tragic demise. He starts off as an honest army officer, who could have enjoyed a blissful life marrying his hometown sweetheart Micaëla. Instead he meets Carmen, the embodiment of vice, and quickly finds himself under her spell. He follows her into a life of crime, where his love for her turns into obsession and rage, and when she gets tired of him and finds a new lover, he surrenders to despair.

Don José is a strenuous role that stands tall against any verismo hero of Puccini or Mascagni. Puerto Rican tenor Rafael Dávilagot through it vocally, but could not convincingly portray his character’s emotional deterioration.

The spark between Dávila and Spanish mezzo-soprano María José Montiel, the evening’s Carmen, was not even big enough to light a match. Montiel knows exactly what to do with her glorious voice, but not so much with her striking body. Carmen exudes sex, and by the end of Act I, having sung “Habanera”and “Seguidilla,” everyone watching should have been aroused. Montiel remained refined throughout the performance.

Duende was awakened by choreographer Rosa Mercedes and her rivetingflamencodancers, starting with the “Gypsy Song” at the beginning of Act II. Their delivery was intoxicating, and left the stage polished for one of the most recognizable arias in all opera, the “Toreador Song.”

The role of the bullfighter Escamillo seems to be tailor made for bass-baritone Ryan Kuster. He has the dark colored voice and magnetism and he would have stolen the show, had he been audible. Kuster had not been fighting bulls but an infection, and was rendered powerless.

It was difficult to appreciate stage director Bernard Uzan’s vision for the drama with such a disjointed cast. Still, some of his creative questions could be heard. Right before the curtain rose, Uzan reduced Carmento a dead bull being dragged away after a fight. Then, choosing to end Act II with the music of the prelude to Act III, he tenderized her with an amorous ballet between her and Don José. Who is Carmen,really? A dangerous obsession? A perfectly balanced object of desire? The incarnation of duende? No one can know.

Bizet’s ‘Carmen’ presented by FGO, Friday, Nov. 18 and Saturday, Nov. 19 at 8:00 p.m., Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; and at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale, on Thursday, Dec. 1 and Saturday, Dec. 3 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $19 to $200;


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About The writer

Classical pianist, music writer

Fernando Landeros is a pianist who has performed throughout Mexico, the United States, Australia, Germany, and Austria. A native of San Diego, his..

About the Writer

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