Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Top 7 Reasons to See Carmen at the Mill City Summer Opera

When the weather matches the mood of your show, you know you've got something powerful going on. 

Photo by Dan Norman

I have always been a great lover of opera, so it saddens me that I haven't had a chance to see many performances in the last few years! Something always seems to prevent me from heading to St. Paul for the delicious work the Minnesota Opera has been doing lately, so I'm stuck instead listening to recordings and dreaming of sensual production design in my apartment.

I was delighted, then, to receive an invitation to attend this year's Mill City Summer Opera, one of the many unique venue performances that arise throughout the summer and always a fun experience. This year MCSO is performing Carmen; there was no way I was going to pass up an opportunity to go, so I headed over to a dress rehearsal last week to check it out.

It's a good thing the performance was a dress rehearsal because Don Juan was out sick and the performance was cancelled halfway through due to a freakily tempestuous rain storm. It doesn't matter though, because I was still treated to an hour and a half of gloriously romantic music that only whetted my appetite for more. How can I claim that you should go see a show I didn't even get to finish? Let me count the ways:

  1. It's Carmen. I know there are shows and artists that can be over-hyped, but trust this opera lover: Carmen isn't one of them. A true masterpiece by Georges Bizet, Carmen has everything you love in opera (or any good story to be honest) - high drama, romance, swashbuckling masculinity, memorable themes, lyrical arias, and the sexiest damn singers you ever did see. It's like a pirate ship for music, how can you go wrong? 
  2. Flamenco. It's not advertised anywhere on the website and we didn't get programs to confirm, but I'm 90% sure that several of the Twin Cities' resident flamenco studio Zorongo's performers are on stage throughout the performance, including the inimitable, riveting founder Susana di Palma. Di Palma wields a castanet like a weapon, gliding across the stage with impossibly tiny yet sinuous movements that will delight any dance lover. Go see Carmen for the music, stay for the flamenco - it's such a treat, and I wish I had a chance to see it more often. 
  3. Mill City Atmosphere. The urban Mississippi riverfront is finally getting some developmental love, and it's already a pleasure to walk around and just look at all the pretty buildings. But to have the chance to see a live opera in an open air venue as gorgeous as the Mill City Museum? That's icing on the cake. There's not a bad seat in the house - you'll be up close and personal with the performers and musicians, giving you an intensely personal view of opera that normally happens much farther away from your eyes. 
  4. Once In A Lifetime Venue. Have you ever had a chance to attend a museum event after hours, dressed to the nines, and witness a masterful performance that will never be repeated again? Yes, this is a *very* bourgeois thing to say, but it's also true - listening to beautiful opera as the sun sets over the Mississippi river and the milky ruins bathe into a warm glow and the stars appear is a gorgeous experience that you owe it to yourself to have. #treatyoself and get a ticket to a full circle opera experience you'll never forget. 
  5. Incredible Vocalists. From the taste we got last week I can assure you that this is a powerhouse cast, and they're only going to get better as they perform more. I found Audrey Babcock positively riveting as Carmen; she's got the voice you crave for the role, but she also acts through her teeth, dances with charm, and is all-around expressive AF. I loved watching her traipse through the cast, disarming them all with her stacked voice and saucy manners, and any Carmen fan is sure to be delighted with her performance. There are several other musical standouts too - I'll leave you to discover them when you go. 
  6. These Performers Are All-In. Do you have any idea what it takes to stand unflinchingly in 85+ degree heat and 75% humidity for over three hours, singing your heart out, sweating through your costumes, hearing your instruments submit to the humidity - and doing it all over again multiple times a week? These performers are truly fearless and refuse to be intimidated by whatever conditions the weather (or climate change) throws at them. They didn't quit playing until there was a downpour of rain, and they stayed as long as possible so the show could go on to completion even though it was just a dress rehearsal. I promise you after witnessing a night in which just about every bad thing that could have, happened: Audiences will be treated to the absolute best level performance these artists can give, and you're sure to get every penny's worth of value that you spend on a ticket.
  7. A Diverse Crew is Running The Show. Another example of the team dedication? When Don Juan was out sick, three different people stepped in to fill his role - the fight captain, Michael Jerome Johnson; the music leader, Fenlon Lamb; and the chorus master, Lara Bolton. While it was a shame that we didn't get to see the actual performer playing Don Jose, what this afforded was a chance to see people who are usually silently behind the scenes orchestrating everything actually jump into action on stage. It was so awesome to see this diverse group of rock stars leading their crew, and honestly provided a different feel to Carmen that got me thinking about how neat it would be to see this show with even more non-traditional casting. What if Don Jose was actually Don Josefina?  Or Carmen was Carlos? There is already a nice spread of racial diversity represented on stage - could there be more? How else could we play with the show to add new layers of meaning? Hats off to the amazing leaders who stepped in at a tough time and let us all see how the example they set leads to excellence throughout the whole production. 
Photo by Dan Norman

My impression overall? If you already love opera, you'll adore this production of Carmen. If you don't? There is no better gateway into understanding the world of opera than Georges Bizet's luxurious score, and the talented, dramatic acting of this cast will have you sucked in from the first few minutes. Carmen only runs through July 24, so make sure you get your tickets ASAP (they're selling out quickly!). Click here for more information or to nab your tickets.

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