Bizet's seduction in Seville, by way of New York ANNE ARUNDEL DIVERSIONS

February 05, 1993|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,Contributing Writer

Alumni Hall continues to pay dividends. Where else could a major operatic production -- Bizet's "Carmen," no less -- make a local appearance?

Monday evening, the Naval Academy structure played host to the New York City Opera National Company, a touring troupe of young singers and players that performs under the aegis of Gotham's venerable opera ensemble.

Vocally, dramatically and orchestrally, "Carmen" is a tall order, 00 and it would stretch the truth to say that these young aspiring stars from New York gave their Annapolis audience a performance to tell our grandchildren about.

"Carmen" is, of course, Georges Bizet's earthy, immensely colorful tale of love, obsession and murder under the Andalusian sun.

Carmen's temptation of the desperate soldier, Don Jose, and the murderous jealousy unleashed as she rejects him for the bullfighter Escamillo, is truly the stuff of which great opera is made.

It is one of music's saddest ironies that the composer of this bewitching score died amid the controversies it inspired early on and never lived to see it accepted as one of the jewels in the operatic crown.

One senses that this production was designed for spaces smaller than the Academy.

The singers and players seemed dwarfed by the hall, and what emerged was a rather wiry, chamber-scaled "Carmen" stripped of much of its sensuality and spectacle.

Great moments -- Escamillo's mega-famous "Toreador" entrance, for example -- sounded disconcertingly small and passed uneventfully.

Matters were not helped by a noticeably slack Act I, tentative entrances at the beginnings of the other three acts, and an Escamillo with a very shaky upper range.

Granted that this was not a "Carmen" for the ages, there was still plenty to enjoy from the young singers, some of whom may be headed for significant operatic careers.

On balance, Lori Brown Mirabal sang admirably in the title role. While her opening, the famous "Habanera," was undistinguished, there were plenty of fireworks in the spicy "Seguidilla," sung as she first seduces the hapless Don Jose.

By the third act, the mezzo had truly come into her own in the darkly dramatic "En vain pour eviter," in which she broods over her fate as her fellow smugglers read their fortunes from a deck of cards.

Dramatically, Miss Mirabal was a Carmen of substance who completely overwhelmed her soldier.

Dennis McNeil's Jose conveyed few nuances beyond his fatally attracted wimp of a character, but the fellow is a very gifted tenor.

Once he got past a rather ordinary "Parle-moi de ma mere" in Act I, Mr. McNeil's vocal stature grew considerably.

The Act II finale ("La liberte!") rang out triumphantly, and the final confrontation with his faithless gypsy was also impressive. His characterization could use some work, but the kid's got a future.

The most polished performance of the evening came from Diane Alexander as Micaela, the innocent girl-next-door Don Jose dumps so he can ruin his life chasing Carmen.

Miss Alexander's "Je dis que rien ne m'epouvante," Micaela's meltingly beautiful Act III pep talk to herself, was exquisitely done, the artistic high point of the performance.

The ensemble travels with a gifted but small orchestra efficiently conducted by Joseph Colaneri.

While there were no interpretive thunderbolts hurled from the podium, the singers were ably supported.

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