Performing Arts

Don’t leave early – FW Opera’s ‘Carmen’ has an astonishing ending

Saturday night’s performance of Bizet’s “Carmen” — the first staged event in the Fort Worth Opera’s 2017 festival — lacked greatness, but there was much to recommend it anyway.

On the plus side, it had a fine quartet of singer-actors in the four most important roles: Carmen, Don José, Micaëla and Escamillo.

In fact, mezzo Audrey Babcock, singing Carmen, and tenor Robert Watson as Don José created the most effective final scene I have ever encountered. It was well-sung and gripping as drama.

It helps that both artists fit their roles, both in physical appearance and dramatic approach.

Baritone Craig Irvin as the macho toreador Escamillo and soprano Kerriann Otaño as the demure Micaëla scored points as well. Otaño veered from tradition a little by portraying her character on first appearance as a bit more pert and flirty than usual, a defensible approach.

That Babcock and Watson performed their final scene so well was a tribute to their professionalism, for they had to follow an astonishing intrusion that became the evening’s low point.

As the crowd was gathering in the final act for Escamillo’s bullfight, in walked a woman in black (not costume) who strolled across the Bass Hall stage and disappeared in the wings, to much laughter and cheering from the audience.

Those cheering had obviously been watching the over-the-stage text projection, not the stage, and knew that the woman was Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, making a guest appearance. Many others were mystified. Mystifying or not, the episode was certainly a drastic change of atmosphere. This might have worked if “Carmen” were a comic opera, but it’s not — and it didn’t.

Other aspects of the evening worked reasonably well. These included the performance of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Joe Illick and of the chorus (Stephen Carey is chorus master). On the other hand, some of those in smaller roles did not rise to the level of the principal singers.

R. Keith Brumley’s scenery was pretty nondescript — basically, a single set has to represent things as varied as the exterior of a bullring, a mountain pass and the entrance to a cigarette factory. Chad R. Jung’s attractive lighting including his striking use of color was a positive.

As usual, the Fort Worth Opera projects text translations in both Spanish and English. The original is French.

Fort Worth Opera Festival

  • “Carmen”: 2 p.m. April 30 and 7:30 p.m. May 5, Bass Hall, $17-$195
  • “Cruzar la Cara de la Luna”: 7:30 p.m. April 29 and 2 p.m. May 7, Bass Hall, $17-$175
  • “Voir Dire”: April 25, 29 and 30 and May 6, McDavid Studio, sold out
  • Frontiers: 8 p.m. May 3 and 4, McDavid Studio, $10
  • 817-731-0726; www.fwopera.org
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