Carmen Opera Review – A Triumphant Treat

Carmen at the Lyric Opera of Chicago
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Opera’s legendary femme fatale returns to Lyric Opera of Chicago with Bizet’s famous and classic Carmen (March 11 – April 7, 2023), starring J’Nai Bridges, a leading interpreter of the famous title role and a singer with deep Chicago roots. Bridges is a two-time Grammy Award winner, has appeared in more than 15 productions at Lyric, and continues to shine as an unparalleled talent in opera.

J’Nai Bridges (Carmen) and Charles Castronovo (Don José)

She is known as the “Beyoncé of the opera world.” An alumna of Lyric’s Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center training program and a Kennedy Center Next 50 cultural leader, the mezzo-soprano makes her triumphant return to the Lyric stage. Bridges shines as Carmen in the current Lyric production of the beloved opera. Her performance is powerful, beautiful and strong. She sings and acts with an air of confidence and impressive, raw emotion. Bridges can do no wrong in this role. Her Carmen is free-spirited and strong!

J’Nai Bridges (Carmen)

Along with Bridges, a perfect cast carried the show from start to finish including extremely talented and internationally acclaimed tenor, Charles Castronovo as Don José, Carmen’s jealous lover and South African soprano, Golda Schultz as Micaëla in her Lyric debut. Schultz’s lovely, lyrical soprano voice and stage presence was amazing. Her best scene was during Act 1 when she delivers a letter to Don José from his mother. The emotion delivered by both actors and the chemistry was very apparent. As for Schultz, her voice is smooth as silk, leaving you in a trance as you listen. You end up not really caring about the subtitles when you hear her luscious voice singing in French. The rest of the ensemble is a power punch of talent. 

Charles Castronovo (Don José) and Golda Schultz (Micaëla)

Carmen is one of my favorite operas: You get exceptionally beautiful and iconic music, complete with adventure, drama and romance. It is also an opera that demands high expectations for singing voices and acting. The entire cast lives up to that high demand. 

J’Nai Bridges (Carmen) and Ensemble

Besides the perfect cast, the costumes and stage design are impeccable. The colorful costumes seem to get more and more elaborate as the show goes on. This is especially apparent in Act lV. The beginning of the act is bright, lively and celebratory with confetti that adds color to the brown background. Then gradually, the scene is made dark with the closing of the red doors and the lowering of the gates. As the tone moves from celebration to tragedy, the set does as well. 

Andrei Kymach (Escamillo) and Ensemble

The opera is a delightful feast for the eyes, such as in Act lll, where you witness the optical illusion of the lights slowly being introduced as the orchestra is playing. It is night time, and the cast is sleeping high in the mountains, with the moon shining above them. The opening scene is similar to a 2D painting, which features the painting slowly coming into view. The actors remain motionless, so there was no betraying the 2D illusion until the transparent screen is lifted. 

J’Nai Bridges (Carmen) and Charles Castronovo (Don José)

There are also various global themes and problems  in Carmen that I think echo today’s troubles, such as women’s rights, domestic violence, etc. These difficult themes are handled well on stage. Carmen is a different opera that hits differently based on the accepted level of violence in society. The audience brings their own impressions as well. For example, the opening with Micaela fending off the soldiers can be uncomfortable for some to watch, but people in the audience are able to appreciate the humor in the situation. It is a reminder that women often have to think more about their safety when around men – she has to find an opening to run away to safety. 

J’Nai Bridges (Carmen) and Charles Castronovo (Don José)

Though beautiful in every aspect, Carmen is a haunting reminder that even centuries later, a female often has to think more about their own safety when around men. This is evident in the final scene when juxtaposed with the opening, as the audience feels the tension, and is able to judge that the situation is no laughing matter.

Photos: Todd Rosenberg

For more information on Carmen or to purchase tickets, please visit the Lyric Opera website


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