“Carmen” Shows Off Fifty Shades of Grey At OTSL Opening

Adam Diegel as Don Jose and Kendall Gladen as Carmen in the Opera Theatre St. Louis production.

The opening production of Opera Theatre St. Louis is a visually stunning “Carmen” done in a ’40’s film noir style that works beautifully while the excellent cast brings Bizet’s glorious score to life. It shows that an old dog can learn new tricks with a story tweak here and there to help make “Carmen” look a lot like “Double Indemnity.”

The plot remains the same as the “smoking” hot gypsy who works in a cigarette factory spreads her favors around and settles on police officer Don Jose and does her best to court him away from his sweetheart, Micaela. Enter the dashing bullfighter, Escamillo, and Carmen turns her attention to him. Darkness engulfs her as a variation on tarot cards predicts nothing but doom and gloom for Carmen and, as the final scene erupts in violence, the foreshadowing becomes reality as jealousy trumps civility.

Alexsey Bogdanov delights his well-wishes as bullfighter Escamillo during the famous “Toreador Song” in Opera Theatre St. Louis’ production of “Carmen.”

Local mezzo-soprano Kendall Gladen makes a triumphant return where she got her start as a Gerdine Young Artist performer at OTSL- now playing the lead role. Although the pre-curtain announcement on opening night said she was suffering from a sinus infection, you couldn’t tell from her sterling performance. As Carmen, the smoky, sultry voice was perfect as she vamped her way across the stage including as the sexy factory worker, her chanteuse turn in the second act and the sophisticated lady as Escamillo’s “arm candy.”

Adam Diegel is perfect as the jilted lover, Don Jose. His powerful tenor rings through the Repertory Theatre venue. Corrine Winters shines in the role of the loyal girlfriend- one of the most stunning soprano voices we’ve heard in some time. Alexsey Bogdanov wows us, particularly with the exciting “Toreador” number on his grand entrance into Pastia’s nightclub. The remainder of the principal cast is also quite impressive as are the chorus and the children’s chorus. The theatre simply rocks (if I can use that term for an opera) with the wonderful music of Georges Bizet. And, thanks to newcomer Carlos Izcaray at the podium, the St. Louis Symphony members never sounded better. The delightful overture was a perfect lead-in to the film noir feel as cast and crew “opening credits” flashed on the background to Bizet’s stirring music.

Director Stephen Barlow makes this black and white concept work and even pays a little homage to “Schindler’s List” with a splash of red in some scenes including Carmen’s flower, the neon sign in Pastia’s, the red shoes she uses as castanets as she woos Don Jose and even the infamous gun in the final scene. It’s all a brilliant stroke of staging, costuming and set design that make this “Carmen” fresh and new.

Adam Diegel and Kendall Gladen as Don Jose and Carmen in the Opera Theatre St. Louis production of Bizet’s “Carmen.”

Christopher Akerlind is behind the wonderful lighting design that enhances the show’s look and Paul Edwards designed equally effective costumes and set. With a slanted view through the billboard and chain link fence as well as the background in Pastia’s, it’s a visual feast. Even the special light that slices a slant across the billboard girl’s eyes sets an ominous tone. Changing Pastia’s from a low-dive cantina to a ’40’s nightclub works well- as does (although a bit more disconcerting) the odd change of venue from the mountains back to the Seville setting for the third act. The theme continues for the parade, however, as an old black roadster with a white convertible top follows the revelers carrying Carmen and Escamillo.

Though some may find a problem with changes that they feel mars the original intent of this opera, I applaud Opera Theatre for giving us a fresh, new look at “Carmen.” With superior voices, a strong orchestra and visually provocative staging, what more could you want? See “Carmen” at Opera Theatre St. Louis, playing in repertory with three other shows, through June 23rd.


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