REVIEW: ‘Carmen’ is an operatic gem

“MUNCIE — There is no other woman in the world of opera like Carmen, the heroine of Georges Bizet well-known masterpiece. And on Thursday evening at Emens Auditorium, Muncie residents discovered exactly why this is the case. Set in the Spanish city of Seville, but performed in Bizet’s native French, “Carmen” is an operatic tour-de-force. The story of the gypsy woman, Carmen, and her lover, Don Jose, this work is incredibly dramatic, often times irrational and always brilliant. It is opera at its core. The Russian mezzo-soprano Galia Ibragimova is perfect in the lead role. Her voice is outstanding and it is impossible to keep your eyes off of her when she traverses the stage. She is Carmen, from the sway in her hips to her mocking laughter at the men who fall for her. She is worth the ticket price alone, but, luckily, the other leads were equally as impressive, playing their roles with complete success. The Mexican tenor, Gabriel Gonzalez plays Don Jose, the man who falls for Carmen with such passion, he forgets the woman he truly loves, Micaela, and ruins his career, to be by the heroine’s side. Gonzalez is every much the equal to Ibragimova, which is essential when performing against such a strong character. He convinces the audience that he must leave everything behind for Carmen, even though it is clear to everyone that this can cause nothing but problems for everyone involved. And then there is poor Micaela, played sweetly by German soprano Christin Molnar. She does not appear very often on stage, but when she does, the audience cannot help but feel complete sympathy for her. Her love is gone and there is nothing she can do about it except sing with a sadness that seeps into the soul.
This touring production was as good as it gets when it comes to opera performances. Their voices were strong, although the acoustics at Emens weren’t perfect, and their acting was over-the-top, which is exactly what is expected in opera. Opera is also not typically performed in English, but with super titles above the stage at Emens, the audience was welcome to follow along with ever murmur. This, of course, isn’t necessary with a good opera performance. This is clear when Molnar’s character is singing with creeping sadness over the love she has lost. She is alone on the stage, her soprano ranging to unbelievable proportions, turning the audience to her side, causing them to feel her loss with every inch of their bodies. English isn’t necessary to empathize with her performance, which is why she is great as well. For those who were in the audience on Thursday, what they saw was a performance to rival any large city production. And at the end there was nothing else to say but, “Bravo!”

CARMEN – Lucas Theatre – Savannah, Ga.
“Teatro Lirico gave a buoyant performance of CARMEN filled with lovely singing, sharp acting and an entertaining comedic sensibility. David Corman did a fine job playing Don Jose. He has a sweet and muscular tenor, able to break glass one moment and hold your breath the next. His ability to release Jose’s agony at story’s end effected the right amount of pathos. Galia Ibragimova was a wonderful Carmen. Ibragimova kept the humanity in Carmen and didn’t allow her to devolve into a gross cartoon of wantonness. Instead, the mezzo-soprano was, at turns, saucy, demure, coquettish and sexually aggressive. All the things that make a world class Jezebel. Ibragimova’s voice was as rich in color as CARMEN is rich in allure. The conflicting themes of fate, love and freedom made sense to the capacity audience last night, evoking a standing ovation.”
SAVANNAH NOW – John Stoer – Feb. 2005

“The setting, performance and acoustics were a treat to both eyes and ears and well received by the sold out audience. A theatrical production gives theatergoers an escape from realityand 2 hours of pure pleasure. This goal was accomplished by the Teatro Lirico’s production of CARMEN, played to perfection by Galia Ibragimova. The supporting cast of soldiers and flamenco dancers combined into a flawless presentation under the direction of Giorgio Lalov. The conclusion was a standing ovation which touched the hearts of both singers and audience.”
W. Palm Beach – Out 2 NEWS – Feb. 2005

Note from WALKTER SKIBA – writer for Norwest Indiana Times – Feb. 2007…
Mary and I saw “Carmen” yesterday and agreed that this was the best Teatro Lirico production we’ve seen. Galia Ibragimova (Carmen) was particularly outstanding in both acting and singing. She made the audience care about what happened to her more than anyone else I’ve seen in the role. Don Jose also was very good. His obsessive approach was evident from the beginning, and there was a believable chemistry between the ill-fated lovers. The drama built to a genuinely intense final scene. Micaela exuded sincerity, Escamillo projected the assurance of someone used to having his way, and Frasquita and Mercedes sang superbly and created distinctive, memorable characters.
The entire ensemble seemed involved in the action, the Spanish dancers added something above the ordinary to the emotionally charged atmosphere excitement, and the conductor adopted a pace that suited the singers, the acoustics and the story.
The audience responded very favorably, many with a standing ovation. I was able to read the super-titles easily without the monocular I normally use (though I didn’t need to refer to them often).”

Posted: Sunday, February 20, 2005


Don Jose is a nice guy and loving son, dutiful soldier and devoted friend. He’s wants to marry a girl-next-door type named Micaela. She’s fair-haired and faithful. Even his mother approves. Things are looking good.
There’s only one problem.
He’s in love with Carmen, a gypsy who thinks love is as ephemeral as smoke.
This eternal struggle between a man’s desire to be bad with bad women and his desire to be good to good women was on display last night at the Lucas Theatre for the Arts in a production of Georges Bizet’s “Carmen” by Teatro Lirico d’Europa.
The international touring company has, since 1988, staged history’s powerhouse operas around the world. You’d think after 3,000 performances, Teatro Lirico d’Europa would present a cast short on energy and long on going-through-the-motions.
On the contrary.
Teatro Lirico d’Europa gave a buoyant performance filled with lovely singing, sharp acting and an entertaining comedic sensibility.
Vadim Zaplechny did a fine job of playing Don Jose. He has a sweet and muscular tenor, able to break glass one moment and make you hold your breath the next. He proved an understated actor, prone to letting a character’s inner turmoil (of which Jose has in abundance) be read on his substantive forehead. His ability to release Jose’s agony at story’s end effected the right amount of pathos.
Galia Ibragimova was a wonderful Carmen. Not overly tart. Not overly domineering. Not overly anything, which is the risk of playing Carmen, so charismatic is her character.
Ibragimova kept the humanity in Carmen and didn’t allow her to devolve into a gross cartoon of wantonness. Instead, the mezzo-soprano was, at turns, saucy, demure, coquettish and sexually aggressive – all the things that make Carmen a world-class Jezebel.
And Ibragimova’s voice was as rich in color as Carmen is rich in allure.
Love is nothing to take too seriously in the comedic world of “Carmen” and the opera’s leading lady is no exception to that principle. She’s the coy master of the game of love, because she’s the maker of the rules. Men who play by her rules do just fine.
But Jose isn’t one of those guys. He’s a loner in this profligate world. When it comes to love (of family, of women, of country), he plays for keeps. He believes in the permanence of love, not its vicissitudes.
So it’s no surprise he’s systematically driven insane by the recalcitrant Carmen. Love to her – enduring love, that is – is something to flee from. It’s a cage. And she’d rather die than be caged.
Which is what happens. Jose, enraged by the presence of a new paramour – a manly bullfighter by the name of Escamillo (who sported a quite virile pompadour) – stabs Carmen, then curses himself for killing his love.
It sounds like a bummer, but it’s not. The conflicting themes of fate, love and freedom made sense to the capacity audience last night, evoking a standing ovation and the question of why there isn’t more opera at the Lucas.
“Carmen” was entertaining enough to forgive a handful of minor flaws, except one. During what was supposed to be Micaela’s showstopper, the machine that projected the libretto (which, by the way, was in a funny colloquial translation from the French) broke.
Something happened. We didn’t know what. But while we wondered, we missed her crystalline aria.

Samson et Dalila: Keeping the Tradition


The opening night of Saint-Saens’s Samson et Dalila (a co-production of Beseto Opera and Czech Prague State Opera Theatre) was a testimony that the tradition of Grand Opera is well and alive. One encounters, more than one wishes for, scaled down productions in the name of modernization or minimalism. In point of fact, the heart of opera is about maximization (of emotion, drama, conflict and visual feat) rather than minimization. The evening confirmed once more that opera is truly the total art.

The singers were internationally cast, consisting of artists from Korea, the Czech Republic, Italy, Russia and the USA with a few particularly remarkable members: Miguelangelo Cavalcanti (The High Priest of Dagon) displayed an excellent vocal technique and an imposing characterization of the high priest. Galia Ibragimova (Dalila) carried the flow of the entire show on her shoulder. Her sound is big and she had the seductive authority the character of Dalila demands. Her dramatic declamations were impressive, though she came dangerously close to indulgence in use of lascivious gesturing.

Cast members post-performance © Frances Park

Cast members post-performance
© Frances Park

Another surprisingly memorable aspect of the evening is Christopher Temporelli (the Old Hebrew), an American bass who, with assuringly bel canto singing, brought a sophisticated portrayal to the Hebrew elder. Temporelli elevated his scenes with musicianship and sonority, creating an otherworldly atmosphere for the scene of Samson’s blessing.

Dario di Vietri sang and acted efficiently through the role of Samson. At times his voice rang heroically through the hall, though his embodiment of the character was one easily seduced by the femme fatale, rather than a national hero who suffers a clash of emotions. The orchestra was also wonderfully decent, led by the prominent Czech conductor Jiří Mikula, as an excellent operatic orchestra.

The polar extremes of the storyline through this production were set by the Old Hebrew and Hebrews, in contrast to the believers of Dagon: the contrast between the Old Hebrew of the Act I, signifying the holy force, and the great pagan rituals/orgy performed by the believers of Dagon, signifying the dark force — for which the choir and the dancers and choreography were mesmerizing — and all other elements in between. Act II, full of intrigue, seduction and betrayal, forms the battleground of the two opposing forces.

The total fanaticism shown by the High Priest of Dagon and Dalila during the pagan ritual was quite frightening, only to remind us all that mankind is ever apt to fall for such state of mind, regardless of epoch, civilization and religious denomination. In the end, the war ends abruptly by the divine intervention, in a way ironically, as one fanaticism succeeds in defeating another form of it.

The use of colour throughout the production added to its power, from beautiful overlapping of fantastical purple and orange tints, capturing the dawn where light and darkness meet, to the scarlet pink brilliance of the lecherous heathens set against the grey cloths the wretched enslaved crowd were wearing.

The genius of Saint-Saëns shone marvellously through this brilliant interpretation, which essentially did justice to the heart of Opera; a dash of madness mixed with high theatricality — a great night at the opera for all senses