Palm Beach Opera – Bizet’s Carmen – J’Nai Bridges, Jonathan Burton, Zachary Nelson & Amanda Woodbury; directed by Garnett Bruce; conducted by Antonello Allemandi

Carmen – Opéra-comique in four acts to a libretto by Henri Meilhac & Ludovic Halévy after the novella by Prosper Mérimée [Sung in French with supertitles by Cori Ellison]

Carmen — J’Nai Bridges
Don José — Jonathan Burton
Micaëla — Amanda Woodbury
Escamillo – Zachary Nelson
Zuniga — Christopher Humbert, Jr.
Moralès — Timothy Renner
Frasquita — Avery Boettcher
Mercédès — Megan Callahan
Le Dancaïre – Heeseung Chae
Le Remendado – Moisés Salazar

Palm Beach Opera Chorus & Orchestra
Antonello Allemandi

Garnett Bruce – Director
Ian Silverman — Associate Director
R. Keith Brumley – Scenery Designer
Robert Perdziola — Costume Designer
James Sale – Lighting Designer
Sue Schaefer – Hair and Make-up Designer
Donna Morgan — Choreographer
Lee Soroko — Fight Director

Reviewed by: David M. Rice

Reviewed: 28 January, 2022
Venue: Dreyfoos Concert Hall, Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, West Palm Beach, Florida

Palm Beach Opera, celebrating its sixtieth anniversary, launched its 2022 season with a highly entertaining production of Bizet’s Carmen. Starring in the title role, J’Nai Bridges superbly embodied, both vocally and dramatically, Carmen’s indomitable spirit and seductiveness, beginning with her habañera (‘L’amour est un oiseau rebelle’), declaring her philosophy of life and love. She exuded irresistible sexuality in the seguidilla (‘Près des remparts de Séville’), seducing Don José and persuading him to set her free. And her final duet with José (‘C’est toi! – C’est moi!’) displayed Carmen’s fearlessness even as José kills her, bringing about the fate predicted for her by the fortune-telling cards and presaged by a recurring orchestral ‘fate’ motif. 

In his Act Two ‘flower song’ (‘La fleur que tu m’avais jetée’), Jonathan Burton’s sweet tenor ardently expressed José’s love for Carmen, and he effectively portrayed his obsessive attachment to her in the final scene. Zachary Nelson’s rendition of Escamillio’s ‘toreador song’ (‘Votre toast’) was stirring and vigorous. Yet, neither of these rival lovers, despite their passionate singing, managed to establish much chemistry with Carmen. There was, however, tangible chemistry between José and Micaëla, winningly portrayed by Amanda Woodbury, in their Act One duet (‘Parle-moi de ma mère’). Her Act Three aria (‘Je dis que rien ne m’épouvante’) when she persuades him to leave Carmen and return to his dying mother’s bedside, was touchingly beautiful. 

Christopher Humbert, Jr. was outstanding as José’s superior, Zuniga, who also succumbs to Carmen’s attractions, and Timothy Renner was a fine Moralès. Among the highlights of the performance was the delightful smugglers’ sextet, in which Bridges and Burton were joined by four singers from the company’s Benenson Young Artist Program. 

R. Keith Brumley’s serviceable set was tweaked between Acts to transform the locale from the square adjoining the cigarette factory to Lillas Pastia’s inn, the smugglers’ mountainside retreat, and finally the exterior of the corrida. James Sale’s lighting was most effective in the moonlit Act Three, and Robert Perdziola’scostume designs were especially attractive in the final Act, with even the colorful ‘suit-of-lights’ worn by Escamillo outshone by Carmen’s stunning white gown. 

Antonello Allemandi led the Orchestra in a spirited rendition of Bizet’s score, its fine playing especially enjoyable in the entr’actes. Flutist Karen Fuller’s playing was noteworthy throughout, especially so in duet with Kay Kemper’s harp. The large Chorus excelled, as did the children. Donna Morgan’s choreography, performed by flamenco dancers from Ballet Palm Beach, added color to the gathering at the inn. The procession into the Plaza de Toros in Act Four was particularly well-staged, but none of the fight scenes were convincing.

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