A sincere, spirited take on `Carmen'

Review: Municipal Opera Company delivers fairly polished show.

October 10, 2001|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

For 10 years, the Municipal Opera Company of Baltimore has provided an outlet for singers from every corner of the community. As evidenced by its current production of Bizet's Carmen, the company boasts a diversity on stage - and in the audience - the major musical outfits in this town can only dream about.

Such inclusiveness is not the company's only asset. There is something disarming about its sincere, determined effort to honor the operatic art. The budget is limited - not the aspirations.

Sunday's presentation of Carmen in Brown Memorial Woodbrook Presbyterian Church had something of a "let's-put-on-a-show" air about it. A mix of professional, semi-professional and amateur elements prevented several of the opera's strongest musical and dramatic points from thrusting home, but the effort had its moments nonetheless. (The cast alternates performances.)

Obviously, Carmen needs a powerhouse mezzo in the title role. Rebecca Rossello did not quite measure up. Her voice lacked full operatic dimensions, especially in the vital lower register, and her shaping of phrases was rather bland. The acting was similarly limited; this was a low-key, almost demure temptress who seemed unlikely to end up in so much moral and physical trouble.

Daniel Snyder was a wooden Don Jose, but sang with a sturdy, vibrant tenor that needed only more tonal nuance to provide subtlety of expression in the Flower Song and other key moments. Robert Burner brought a sizable, evenly produced baritone to the role of Escamillo; there was more bank manager, though, than champion bullfighter in his characterization.

Cris Re-jeanne Robinson moved tentatively as Micaela but revealed promising musical instincts, if not fully formed technique. Steadier intonation and a wider range of shading would have enhanced her performance.

The admirable decision to offer Carmen in its original version, with spoken dialogue, no doubt contributed to the unease that affected so much of the acting on the small stage. Even the most experienced opera singers can have difficulty switching gears and reciting lines with natural inflections.

Among the supporting roles, Beverly Diaz (Frasquita) contributed some bright soprano tones and teen-ager Daniel Gorham (Zuniga) revealed a budding baritone well worth cultivating. The chorus made up in spirit for intermittent slips of coordination and blend.

Simple sets and costumes and traffic-cop stage direction (by Ron Oaks) were balanced by John Stanley Thurston's straightforward, mostly secure conducting. Although the orchestra was small, the playing - generally quite polished - revealed a good deal of the score's uniquely vibrant color.

Opera

What: Municipal Opera Company of Baltimore presents Bizet's Carmen

Where: Brown Memorial Woodbrook Presbyterian Church, 6200 N. Charles St.

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday, 4 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $9 to $15

Call: 410-329-6874, 410-785-2090

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