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Wednesday, December 19 , 2018, 6:57 am | Fair 42º


Opera Santa Barbara’s ‘Carmen’ Heats Up Granada Stage

Feeling right at home in its new theater, the opera's debut performance is a full-house hit. If you missed it, you've got a second chance Sunday.

Opera Santa Barbara made its debut at The Granada on Saturday with a commendably professional performance of Georges Bizet’s Carmen, complete with full orchestra and chorus.

The familiar operatic tragedy was probably the ideal choice to bring out a full-house crowd; Carmen is beloved and well-known because it embodies grand opera in story, setting and music. Nir Kabaretti, conductor of the Santa Barbara Symphony, led the polished orchestra, with stage direction by Vernon Hartman.

An extra bonus for the enthusiastic audience was the casting of two alumni of the Music Academy of the West in key roles. Don Jose, the corporal of the Dragoons who is fatally smitten with Carmen, was sung splendidly by Michael Hayes. Micaela, the village maiden who loves him with unrequited passion, was portrayed by soprano Rena Harms. These young people are good-looking, with beautiful and well-trained voices and excellent acting skills. The Music Academy turns out fine artists.

Carmen herself was formidable in the person of Emily Langford Johnson, a striking woman with a rich mezzo. She makes her home in New York City and has performed roles as varied as Hansel in Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel and Maddalena in Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto.

Escamillo was sung by baritone Derrick Parker, who cuts a dashing figure in toreador tights. Carmen’s homegirls, Sara Campbell as Mercedes and Chera Lamborn as Frasquita, were lovely to look at and their voices were pretty nearly sublime. Bizet is never better than in his ensemble writing, and these two performed brilliantly, especially in the third act.
Jamie Offenbach was a standout as Zuniga, Jose’s commanding officer and nemesis. Offenbach is tall and imposing, and his acting was also notable. Paul Sahuc and Robert W. Weinman were very good in the lesser parts of Morales and Lillas Pastia.

In addition to the full chorus, conducted by John Ballerino, there was a fine aggregation of children, who sang, danced and advanced the action with their teasing, sweet-voiced antics. Directed by Nichole Dechaine, the Children’s Chorus included Katie Dalforno, Ryan Dalforno, Anjuli Das, Allegra Fetyko, Logan Fleming, Fiona Flynn, Erika Foreman, Aidan Gilkes, Colin Gleason, Sophia Hammoudeh, Maggie Langhorne, Madeline Marquis, Molly Marshall, Madeleine Meyer, Kelsey Rich and Margaux Robles.

An added attraction was the addition of flamenco dancers Arleen Hurtado and Pablo Pizano, who performed to Bizet’s stirring music in the interludes. Whoever thought of this was inspired.

It’s obvious that Opera Santa Barbara has geared up to mount truly professional works. The Granada provides the ideal venue, according to the program statement from Peter Bertling, Opera Santa Barbara’s board president. He noted that The Granada can accommodate professional sets and choruses, unlike the smaller Lobero Theatre, where previous performances took place. Also meriting recognition were the production patrons, who obviously gave generously to produce Carmen.

Carmen will be performed again at 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Meanwhile, Opera Santa Barbara will be back at 7:30 p.m. Saturday with Franz Lehar’s The Merry Widow, conducted by Valery Rifkin. A second show will be performed March 22. It seems fair to say, Opera Santa Barbara has really arrived.

Click here to order tickets to Carmen and The Merry Widow or for more information, or call 805.898.3890.

— Margo Kline covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor.

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