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Singers, Fox Valley Symphony make 'Carmen' a rousing success

May 16, 2009

By James Chaudoir • For The Post-Crescent • May 18, 2009

The Fox Cities Performing Arts Center was filled to capacity Saturday as the Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra with soloists and chorus presented Georges Bizet's celebrated opera "Carmen."

The opera itself was semi-staged with the orchestra on stage and the cast in costume. A task of monumental proportion, the evening was a complete success.

Maestro Brian Groner's insightful interpretation of the opera was evident from the opening notes of its rousing overture to its final tragic scene, Carmen's death. In all, the opera was well performed, filled with imagination and good musicianship.

The cast chosen for this performance was strong and, for the most part, well balanced.

Excellent singing was in abundance, but the stars of the evening were Carmen, sung by Emily Langford Johnson and Don Jose, sung by Allan Glassman.

Other members of the cast included soprano Kathy Pyeatt as Micaela and bass-baritone Kelly Anderson as Escamillo, the matador. Also featured were Melissa Kelly Cardamone as Fasquita and Lacey Jo Benter as Mercedes, two gypsy girls.

Pyeatt's performance in the "letter duet" Parle-moi de ma mere with Don Jose was her strong moment of the evening. Her famed aria in the third act wasn't sung with the same confidence. Anderson's animated performance of the "Toreador Song" was both robust and effective, and highly appreciated by the audience.

One of the beauties of this opera is the ensemble singing interspersed among the more celebrated arias.

Two such occasions came to the fore Saturday night. The first was the quintet in the second act, sung by El Dancairo, El Remendado, Frasquita, Mercedes and Carmen. Filled with many fast notes and intricate text, the quintet of singers performed superbly bringing out every nuance.

Another such moment was the "Card Trio" in the third act, sung by Frasquita, Mercedes and Carmen. Again, excellent ensemble work by the three singers.

As mentioned earlier, the stars of the evening were Johnson and Glassman as Carmen and Don Jose. Both singers seem to grow in musical stature as the evening progressed.

Johnson's first aria, the famous Habanera, served as a "warm-up" as to what was to come. I found her singing of the Sequidilla closing act one to be superb. In addition, she must be praised for her acting skills.

Johnson proved to have mastery of the full range of her voice. Her exquisite top is of equal quality to her bold lower range, so needed for this demanding role. Finally, her singing in the final scene was strong, emotional and performed with absolute clarity.

Glassman's Don Jose was, simply put, marvelous. His command of the role was never in doubt and his very presence on stage made those around him sound better. The voice was strong and carried well. He had a competent control over the entirety of his range in both quality and dynamics.

His duet in act one with Micaela showed the sensitive beauty of his voice, while his role in the final act showed the dramatic strength of his voice.

To me, however, the memorable moment of the evening was his interpretation of the "Flower Song" aria, la fleur que tu m'avais jetee, sung in the second act. This was singing at its finest; sheer beauty and musical expression. Perhaps what Bizet had in mind.

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