By Nino Pantano
Special to Brooklyn Daily Eagle
BROOKLYN — Maestro Victor DeRenzi, a native New Yorker, is celebrating 30 outstanding years as artistic director of Florida’s Sarasota Opera.
There will be a special gala in his honor on March 25. In the early evening of Saturday, Feb. 11, the 53rd Winter Festival Season began with a special opening night of Carmen.
The glittering and glamorous audience packed the acoustically perfect and charming 1,100-seat William E. Schmidt Opera Theater, and one could feel their sense of pride, expectation and fulfillment.
Carmen was completed in 1875, shortly before the composer Georges Bizet died at age 36. He never knew that his opera would become a staple in the repertory and a worldwide favorite.
From the opening bars of the striking and tuneful overture, one sensed that Bizet’s hand was guiding Maestro DeRenzi and the Sarasota Orchestra in giving an inspired reading of this glorious score.
The story of the free-willed gypsy girl Carmen, her soldier lover Don José and her new lover Escamillo the toreador has a universal appeal. The French libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halevy from a story by Prosper Merimee had excellent English subtitles above the stage.
Carmen, a worker in a cigarette factory, was ravishingly sung by Fredrika Brillembourg. Her warm mezzo made for a vocally alluring siren, and her svelte good looks understandably made her the obsession of love-crazed Don José. Brillembourg’s sensual singing of the “Habanera” was infectious, and her final note of the “Seguedille” was abandon at its best. Her burnished tones in the card scene (predicting her death) were haunting. Carmen’s final defiant and fatal confrontation with Don José in the last act made for chilling theater.
Don José, a corporal of the Dragoons and later a disgraced officer turned smuggler, was sung by tenor Antonio Nagore. Nagore had a cold but did not cancel. There were a few rough patches that he negotiated well, and most of the time he sang with both power and finesse. His singing of the “Flower Song,” or “La Fleur Que Tu M’avais Jetee” was artfully done, and his duet with his pure love Micaela, “Parle-Moi De Ma Mere,” revealed some truly lovely lyric passages. His final “Ah! Carmen! Ma Carmen Adoree!,” sung to her lifeless body after he stabs her, was heartbreaking.
The scheduled Escamillo, Carlos Monzon, canceled and was replaced by Kevin Wetzel, who has a vibrant baritone, especially strong in the middle and with a powerful top. He sang with impressive swagger in “Votre Toast” (the popular “Toreador Song”), and with ardor and passion in the love duet “Je T’aime” with Carmen. A perfect blend of two silken voices! He also swirls a mean cape!
Micaela, the innocent peasant girl from the country and beloved of Don José before Carmen came along, was brilliantly sung by Danielle Walker. Her duet with Don José, ending with a kiss she carried from his mother, revealed a truly radiant lyric soprano voice. This was demonstrated beautifully in her singing of Micaela’s aria “Je Dis, Que Rien Ne M’epouvante” in the third act, which earned her a prolonged ovation.
All of the parts were the sum of a perfect ensemble, including the Dancaire of baritone Matthew Hanscom, Remandado of tenor Heath Huberg, Zuniga by bass-baritone Stephen Fish, Morales by baritone Dimitrie Lazich, and the sparkling sopranos of Vira Slywotzky as Mercedes and Sarah Asmar as Frasquita.
Rounding out the stellar cast was baritone Kyle Guglielmo as Lillas Pastia and tenor Stephen Carroll as the guide.
Kudos to stage director Martha Collins for the smooth transition from spectacle to intimacy that this opera requires. Scenic designer David P. Gordon provided haunting venues of mountain hideouts and outdoor settings. Howard Tsvi Kaplan’s outstanding costumes, Ken Yunker’s subtle dusk and dawn lighting and all the effects of the haunting card scene and the bull ring in Seville made for a visual treat!
The marvelous chorus sang lustily as directed by Roger L. Bingaman. Jesse Martins, as chorus master of the youth opera, also did a fine job. The chorus’s lively singing in the “Toreador” aria was a highlight. Special kudos to Susan T. Danis, executive director, and to Sam Lowry, the industrious communications officer who made my wife Judy and I feel so much at home.
After congratulating Maestro Victor DeRenzi, it was also nice to meet his valuable artistic administrator Greg Trupiano, a Carroll Gardens resident who has been with the company for almost 30 years.
For information, visit www.sarasotaopera.org.