Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Seville Unions

November 30, 2008

Viktoria Vizin and Marcus Haddock
Photo: Robert Millard/LAO 2008

Perhaps the only thing sadder than having to sit through L.A. Opera’s current umpteenth revival of Carmen was the fact that this Sunday’s matinee appeared to be nearly sold out. Now, of course, given the state of the economy, one would think that would be a good thing. The bad news is such a reality only reinforces bad behavior. Namely, the company's continuing to revive a relatively small number of productions so frequently that over half of each season is occupied with performances that anyone with even a passing interest in opera could have no possible reason to see other than to maintain well-liked subscription seats. Ironically, the house appears to be filled with a high percentage of first-timers who are treated to some very worn productions often with B or C list casts that are unlikely to inspire many of them to come back. Admittedly I have no data to back this assertion up, but I can speak from experience in pawning off my own tickets to friends that this strategy may well be making money to keep the organization afloat, but it is not cultivating future audiences.

Of the short list of LAO's frequent repeats, Enilio Sagi’s Carmen production may be one of the most unattractive. In it’s muted beige and pastel color scheme, it's dull to look at and heavily reliant on ridiculous stage business from the chorus. Several casts have cavorted with varying degrees of success in these environs, and the current configuration handles it all with a bit more flair than the last group, but only just enough to keep the whole thing from descending into self-parody. This time out the lead role went to Hungarian Viktoria Vizin who seemed more menacing than sexy. She warbled a bit more than was necessary, but I've heard worse. Marcus Haddock was Don José, and, I’ll admit, of his several West Coast appearances this year in both L.A. and San Francisco, this was probably the best. He rarely seemed strained, and, though he lacked much passion in the role, you could hardly fault him since this fact did not differentiate him in any way from the rest of the cast. Genia Kühmeier’s Micaëla was sweetly sung and was easy to love. Raymond Aceto was a particularly humorless Escamillo.

Beneath it all was Emmanuel Villaume who led an at times forceful performance from the orchestra. There were some moments when the energy seemed to flag, but overall it was an alert, committed presentation. Still, the production at this point is about as sanitary and lifeless as you can imagine with Carmen's death seeming like a ho-hum afterthought. Think of it this way, Sunday's audience was filled with more children than a typical performance from what I could see. Now who in their right mind thinks the aggravated murder of a promiscuous gypsy woman by a soldier makes for appropriate family entertainment? But here in L.A. you can kill your gypsy and have acculturation for your offspring, too, thanks to a banal Disneyesque reimagining of Spain and the characters that populate Bizet's masterpiece. But I suppose I shouldn't complain. Given what arts organization's are faced with these days, I'm sure I'd be no help on the board of LAO. If this is the price of not meeting the fate of Opera Pacific, I guess I'll keep my mouth shut and be glad for the other 40-50% of the season that continues to exist. Carmen runs through December 15 and will have a B cast for the last few performances.



Friends have just finally given up their season tickets to LAO as the repeating of repeats makes the few operas you might want to attend that much more expensive.
I truly feel your experience was as stated - season holders giving their tickets to family or friends, or selling them on the cheap, just to hold their place in line for next season's re-treads!
They now buy just the tickets they want, even through an agency, and the cost is still less, and the seats are better.
The most memorable aspect of this production was Viktoria Vizin along with the rest of the exceptionally strong, well- matched group of performers. An ensemble cast in the best sense of the term. Perhaps you attended a different production?
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