Friday, September 30, 2005

Taking over the World, classically!

Have you seen this?

He Saved Opening Night: Tenor Mark Thomsen Triumphs as Last-Minute Substitute in Chicago Lyric's Carmen
By F. N. D'Alessio

Graves, D'Arcangelo and Rost also score successes in John Copley's production.
Associated Press - 25 September 2005
Bizet: Carmen
Graves, Rost, Thomsen, D'Arcangelo, et al.
Orchestra and Chorus of Lyric Opera of Chicago
A. Davis, Copley
24 September 2005 - Ardis Krainik Theatre, Civic Opera House, Chicago
CHICAGO — Don José finally got to be a hero — or at least the tenor singing him did.
As the male lead in Bizet's Carmen, American Mark Thomsen not only made his Lyric Opera of Chicago debut Saturday, but he did it on the season's opening night — and as a last-minute substitute for the billed Neil Shicoff, who was recovering from laryngitis.
Thomsen began the evening facing a firing squad during the last bars of the overture, and he ended the night riddled with rifle bullets as the curtain fell. In between, though, he scored a personal triumph.
Thomsen had sung the role before, in Dallas, so he had to be aware of the character's shortcomings. Don José, after all, is a soldier who only makes it to corporal before he deserts. He then becomes a most halfhearted smuggler before winding up as homicidal stalker. Even as a lover, he doesn't quite work out. What sort of tenor loses the girl to a bass-baritone?
Don José does get to kill her, though. And he gets to sing, beautifully, in Thomsen's case, particularly in Act II's "Flower Song."
Thomsen is also young enough to play the role effectively, and handsome enough to account for why Carmen, the tempestuous Gypsy, singles him out for her attentions in Act I.
In the Lyric production, Carmen is sung by American mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves, who has made the role her own in recent years. There are many reasons why, and Graves demonstrated them all Saturday night. Her flexible voice, intriguingly throaty at moments and capable of Eartha Kitt purrs, is all but perfect for the character. And it's beautifully matched by the movements of her dancer's body.
And to add to Carmen's erotic arsenal, Graves has two other seductive weapons: humor and intelligence.
The humor has always been there, in the libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, but few recent singers bring it out as well as Graves does under the direction of John Copley. She knows the phrases to accent, the facial reactions to use, and how much leg to show and when. And it's never overdone, which is one place where the intelligence comes forth.
Graves plays Carmen not as a slave to passion, but as a lover of total freedom. It's evident from the Act I Habañera, where love (and Carmen, too) is a wild bird that will not be tamed, right through to the fatal duet with Don José in Act IV.
Graves and Thomsen get good support from the secondary players in the current production. Ildebrando D'Arcangelo, a Lyric favorite, is a good fit for the bullfighter, Escamillo. And another bass-baritone, New York-born Christian Van Horn, used a commanding voice and his impressive height to accentuate the crucial, but often overlooked, role of Lt. Zuñiga.
And Hungarian soprano Andrea Rost brought a real depth to Don José's village sweetheart, Micaëla, who sometimes comes off as saccharine. Rost played her as tiny, but brave, and drew loud cheers with her Act III soliloquy and prayer for courage.
The conductor, Sir Andrew Davis, was obviously having a fine time leading the orchestra through one of opera's best-loved and most melodious scores.
The entire production is sumptuous, but smoky. The products of the cigarette factory where Carmen works are very much on display, and many characters on stage puff away on them with apparent enthusiasm. One almost expected some audience member to stand up in Act I and shout, "Hey, you're singers, do you want to ruin your lungs?"
None of the principals, however, appeared to be inhaling.
Lyric general director William Mason said Shicoff's throat was improving and he should be able to sing the remaining seven performances from September 28 to October 21. Further productions are scheduled for March with a different cast.
But credit for saving opening night went to Thomsen. When a large bouquet came flying over the orchestra pit at the curtain calls, Graves picked it up, extracted one red rose and presented it to the tenor. It was an echo of the action in Act I, but it was also a way of saying "Thank you."

I saw it Wednesday and passed it along to Norm Clarke, the “gossip” columnist for the Las Vegas Review Journal. So I was happy to see it in his column today!
I met Mark while in Las Vegas, a very talented singer, and nice guy to boot. If you get a chance to hear him, do so, and stop by his website:

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