Opera of the Hamptons' 'Carmen' a triumph.

From DAN'S PAPER'S, Long Island, New York, July, 2005

Without doubt 'Carmen' is one of the favorite and well-known operas should not take away from the fact that Bizet composed a masterpiece of story telling with wonderful music that is difficult to stage and demands major contributions from the supporting cast as well as from the principals.

For a touring one-night opera company to stage this show successfully is even more difficult so full marks are due to Opera of the Hamptons for this wonderful performance at the beautiful, bijou Vail Leavitt Theater in Riverhead last Saturday. It was almost unbelievable that the cast could come together with limited rehearsal time and perform so smoothly for there are some very involved ensemble pieces as well as the individual arias.

Barbara Giancola and Atarah Hazzan, Artistic and Music Directors respectively assembled a truly star-studded cast lead by Tammy Hensrud in the title role. She has sung in opera houses across Europe and at the Met in New York. She was a tempestuous, sensual Carmen, the kind of woman that men may fantasize about but who, in the flesh most would find impossible to live with! She displayed great stage presence to match a wonderful voice full of warmth, range and subtlety. You could only feel sorry for poor Don Jose, a simple soldier from the country and no match for this beguiling gypsy as she told him of the delights awaiting near the walls of Seville in the haunting 'Seguidille'. Marc Deaton sang the role of Don Jose, the simple soldier whose life is turned inside out by the scheming of Carmen. Marc Deaton has a glorious tenor voice which he really showed to its full range in the poignancy of the famous aria, 'La Fleur que tu m'avais jetee' ( The flower that you threw to me) and then in the powerful duet with Carmen, 'C'est toi! C'est moi', (It is you, it is me), in the final act. when it was easy to see why he has built such a great reputation in the world of opera especially for his interpretation of Wagner's Tristan. The famous Seguedille duet with Carmen also brought rounds of applause. The only downside to his striking performance was when he allowed his long hair to fall freely around his face in the second act something that for the audience, obscured his face to a large extent.

The third member of this ill fated romantic triangle is, of course the famed Toreador, Escamillo, and you could ask for no one better than Richard Hobson to sing this this role. This long term regular at the Met thrilled the audience with the famous Toreador song, and acted the role with great verve and panache. He is a performer who lights up the stage whenever he sings and he really was the Toreador, the star who is full of his own star quality!

Now even though Carmen is the undoubted star, the role of Don Jose's spurned fiancée, Micaela, is one that requires it to be in sharp contrast to the worldiness and vivacity of Carmen, and here Evelyn Thatcher, another newcomer to the company showed why she has sung in companies all over the US and Europe. She has a beautiful soprano voice with excellent clarity and tone and she held the audience spellbound in her beautiful aria, 'Je dis que rien ne m'epouvante', (I know that nothing frightens me), where she spells out how she knows that Carmen has bewitched Don Jose and turned him into a criminal but how she still intends to fight for the man she still loves. Of course, in the end Don Jose kills Carmen and spoils Micaela's dream for ever.

This production was made even more memorable because of the talents of the singers who individually and collectively provided wonderful performances in the supporting roles. Stephan Kirchgraber brought his resonant bass voice to the role of Captain Zuniga and demonstrated once more what a very talented and versatile artist he is. The quartet of smugglers and gypsies, James Wordsworth, Anthony Tolve, Elly Erickson and Lisa Chavez all had voices that were never overshadowed by the principals and look for these names to be appearing in leading roles in the not too distant future, they really were that good. Katya Wanzer was a graceful Spanish dancer and Molly Mustonen, Ann Marie Schubert, Michael Natale and Martin Young rounded out a cast that worked so well together. This was Deloss Brown's first appearance as Stage Director and he and long time stalwart Stage Manager, Charles Bosselman kept this very complex opera flowing freely and by utilizing all of the stage boxes and also having artists up in the balcony really brought an extra dimension which the audience obviously appreciated. And what can you say about Atarah Hazzan apart from, "Brava'! Her virtuoso performance on the piano to accompany this long opera truly was a tour de force and she totally deserved the ovation at the end.

So, another triumphant evening that will have made all of the hard work worthwhile for a drained set of artists and staff. The next production will be in a very different vein as 'Opera to Broadway' comes back again to Castello di Borghese winery in Cutchogue on August 20th.

--Ray Bradbrook