On Sunday, 6 May 2007, at Mondavi Center’s Jackson Hall, UCD musicians joined Adler Fellows from the San Francisco Opera to create one of the outstanding musical events of this or any musical season. Did you think ‘Carmen’ needed elaborate sets? A costumed chorus? Well, when it has leads like these, a few tables and chairs, and a chorus lined up anonymously behind a scrim, you have an opera. In the pit was the UCDSO with D. Kern Holoman, musical director for this opera, conducting. It was a splendid collaboration. Jackson Hall looked to be sold out, and the audience was spellbound.
Remember the Carmens you have seen, and you may feel as I do that none was as good as Kendall Gladen. Her Carmen was not a changeable woman trying different men for variety or gain. Watching Ms. Gladen’s moves and hearing her voice, it seemed that her Carmen lived deeply and profoundly in each moment. Change required effort: rooted in one situation, she had to pull hard to move; then she’d become as bound down, and in time as unhappy, again. Ms Gladen’s portrayal clarified Carmen’s demise. Absorbed in life, she found herself miserable; could death be any worse?
(Of course I know all about the card readings, but the fateful cards didn’t cause anything; they only confirmed Carmen’s misery. Or so I think after seeing Ms.Gladen’s Carmen.)
The buzz was about Ms. Gladen, but Noah Stewart was a remarkable Don Jose, especially as his voice warmed and the demands of the plot became more dramatic. No lovers could contrast more: Jose had had a happy childhood; it took Carmen to ruin his life. Jeremy Galyon, Escamillo, was as upbeat, thrilling and resplendant (credit Lynne Giovanetti for costumes that otherwise looked contemporary) as a bullfighter could possibly be. His plea to Carmen in Act IV was his tender, introverted moment.
Of the women, Ji Young Yang as Frasquita and Katharine Tier as Mercedes, contrasted soprano voices and combined lively acting to create a sort of ensemble for their friend Carmen. I haven’t heard such a charming high soprano as Ms Yang for a long time. Rhoslyn Jones’s Micaela left a little to be desired. She didn’t seem so much tender and persuasive with her message---Don Jose’s mother wishes he would leave the army and come home---as demanding. Perhaps her style was well-chosen, for soon enough Don Jose succumbed to Carmen. Micaela was the loser.
Paul Corujo sang Lt. Zuniga, who tried to tame Don Jose, but whose task overall was to maintain order outside the cigarette factory when Carmen and her comrades came out for lunch. Althugh his was the first demise, there was nothing to foretell such an end; Corujo remained military and in charge---wasted effort though it turned out, in this case, to be.
Baritone Eugene Chan sang the Corporal but also, in the last two acts, joined tenor Matthew O’Neill as a smuggler. In the sextet and the quintet, they were excellent, but I especially enjoyed their acting and would trust the rascally guys with my smuggling enterprise any time. Special praise for her attention to acting and detail must go to stage director Isabel Milenski. Stage Manager was Philip E. Daley and lighting was by Thomas J. Munn.
The production came about through the good auspices of the SF Opera, of opera-lover Barbara Jackson, and the UCD Departments of Music and of Theater and Dance. But think primarily of D. Kern Holoman, who acted as music director, and who also saw that the UCDSO got to San Francisco for rehearsals many times over a six-week period. Rumor had it that directors from the SF Opera and from the Los Angeles Opera were present on Sunday evening. I stand in awe at the work involved in producing any opera. But in this remarkable achievement, Professor Holoman and student singers and orchestra members were not intimidated by a new work to learn or even by distance. The opera program, which I’ll keep, is an achievement in itself; have you ever seen all the arias listed in an opera program? For fascinating program notes, also credit Professor Holoman.
Add this: Mondavi Center presented the Cincinnati Symphony on April 21. Leonidas Kavakos was soloist for the Brahms Violin Concerto in D; other works were Erkki-Sven Tuur’s ‘Zeitraum’ and Carl Nielsen’s Symphony No. 4. It was the best concert I’ve ever heard at Mondavi, or maybe anywhere. Did I review it? No, but that reminds me that for Davis Classical Review, this labor of love, I’d welcome comments, discussion, whatever you’d care to send.