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September 26th, 2007 Stephen Marc Beaudoin | Theater
 

Portland Opera: Carmen

     
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Grinding your backside into an arresting officer’s crotch is one way of attempting to get out of handcuffed custody.
    Carmen attempts it, or at least Jossie Pérez’s Carmen does, in Portland Opera’s Havana-scented, season-opening production of the warhorse Bizet opera, on loan from Opera de Montreal. In a bump-’n’-grind, wet-’n’-wild performance worthy of a Shakira music video, Perez also rubs her formidable chest on that officer’s back, wrings a bath of water over her bare legs and sucks seductively on a red lollipop. This Carmen’s hot… get it?
    She’s also, as directed by Nicolette Molnár, a crudely drawn caricature. Reacting with telenovela-worthy oversize gestures and elastic expressions, Pérez gets a surprising number of laughs and a big hand for her performance in the title role, but at what cost? Beneath the surface flash, there’s never any real passion or pathos in her Carmen. Vocally, the role sits in a seemingly awkward place for Pérez: As the mezzo’s voice continues to bloom northward, her chest notes no longer ring out with a plumy depth, though she does put a gorgeous gold spin on her top tones.
    Much of the rest of this standard-issue production goes reasonably well in the hands of Molnár and conductor Joseph Colaneri, who offer a near-complete hearing of the original version, spoken dialogue and all. There are colorful 1940s Cuba-era costumes and sets; the fourth act bullring cut-away view of the action is especially striking.
    Carmen’s frequently molested officer, Don José, is played with histrionics-free conviction and ardently sung by American tenor Richard Troxell; Maureen O’Flynn’s (Micaela) pliant soprano also fits the bill. As the crowd-surfing toreador Escamillo, Mark S. Doss convincingly avoids eye contact with his castmates and looks great in tight pants. Of the amiable supporting cast, new Portland Studio artists Sharin Apostolou (Frasquita), Brendan Tuohy (El Remendado) and especially rich-voiced mezzo Hannah Sharene Penn (Mercedes) made striking first hearings. Bass Jeffrey Beruan, a returning Studio Artist, made a physically imposing Zuniga but struggled to stay on the right side of the pitch. The chorus sang with great range of color and dynamics.
    The orchestra plays with snap and swagger for Colaneri, though complex ensembles played fast (very) and loose (too). But no matter: The Portland Opera audience came to cheer, and when Pérez wiped her brow and mouthed “phew!” in mock exhaustion at the curtain, a good laugh was had by all.

Keller Auditorium, 222 SW Clay St., 241-1802. 7:30 pm Thursday and Saturday, Sept. 27 and 29. $41.75-$147.75.
 
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