We ate at an Asian restaurant since Paul is a vegan and finding vegan-friendly food is not easy, even in NYC. We decided to both get food that he would be able to eat so we could share. He ordered vegetable teriyaki and I got a mushroom and tofu dish. I also introduced him to the delights of bubble tea -- he had a mango non-dairy one while I drank a taro one with milk.
"Carmen" was delightful -- both Paul and I enjoyed ourselves immensely at the performance. Branch Fields as Zuniga and Scott Piper as Don Jose sang beautifully and clearly, enunciating their French so that I had no need to look at the super-title translation to understand them. (This was something that could not be said of other members of the cast, unfortunately.) Mr. Piper had made his debut with City Opera in 2000 in Wagner's "The Flying Dutchman", which I had seen and been very impressed by at the time, as was my companion for that performance, who is a singer himself, appearing in a number of operas and operettas in and around Philadelphia. He'd gushed over the performance then and it seems that Mr. Piper has only gotten better as time has gone on.
One interesting bit of casting was Daesan No as Escamillo -- as I had mentioned in a previous post, I am not used to seeing Asian singers in "regular" roles (as opposed to parts in "Madame Butterfly" or "The Mikado", for example). It's not that I have any objection to them, it's just that until now that type of casting wasn't usually done at City Opera, perhaps from a lack of suitably trained performers. This is Mr. No's debut role at NYCO and he did an excellent job of it -- he was clear, enunciating his French cleanly and doing a good job of acting as well as singing. (Enunciation and acting ability are two things I tend to be a bit of a stickler about -- opera is about telling a story, not just making pretty noises.) Like Mr. Yum in last Wednesday's performance of "La bohème", Mr. No is from Korea -- if this is the quality of the singers trained in that country, I will be quite happy to see more of them on American opera stages!
One thing about the performance I was a bit diffident about though was that the director had chosen to give "Carmen" the same NC-17 treatment as this season's "Semele". Given the plot and characters, it really isn't a completely out of line interpretation of the work, but it was rather disconcerting to see Carmen playing footsie with Zuniga's crotch on stage on her back with her skirt pushed up almost all the way to her waist while children in the row in front of me were watching -- that's the kind of thing that certainly seems more than a bit edgy. I was also of two minds with the interpretation of Don Jose -- as played by Mr. Piper, he comes across as rather an abusive lover, pulling Carmen's hair and threatening to backhand her -- and all this well before the final act. Don Jose may be a jealous lover, but his on-stage roughing up of Carmen, while an arguably valid interpretation, seemed a bit much to me, although it did make Carmen's desire to leave him more understandable.
One part of the production that I enjoyed very much, however, was the dancers in the second act. Esperanza Galan and Gregorio de Silva did a splendid job, doing their dances in proper flamenco style, which certainly added flair and an authentic atmosphere to Lillas Pastia's tavern. I would have been happy if their stage time could have somehow been extended, they did such a wonderful job!
Something I found interesting in this staging was that a nod was made to gypsy magic in the first scene of the third act, albeit in a rather "Wiccan" way. Carmen casts circle on stage using powder, then does a quasi-honoring of the quarters before anointing herself and her two female assistants on the forehead, then uses a branch to bless the smugglers' knives. She remains within the circle as she prepares to do her cartomancy reading on the small altar within it, not once stepping out of circle until she has finished her divination. It was nice to see this acknowledgement of the role of magic in the gypsy lifestyle, although I doubt many of the members of the audience realized what the purpose of Carmen's actions was supposed to be.