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Carmen and Don José are a train wreck of a couple. He's undeniably brave but deeply insecure; she's an anarchist who compulsively pushes all his buttons. But it's the kind of train wreck from which you can't look away especially when it's surrounded by the nonstop tune-fest that is Georges Bizet's score.
Utah Opera opened its five-performance run of "Carmen" Saturday night with a stirring performance in a sold-out Capitol Theatre.
Mezzo-soprano Elise Quagliata sings the title role in this production, combining a fierce charisma with vocal finesse. She commanded the stage with apparent effortlessness on Saturday, and her acting and dancing skills were on par with her singing. Her leading man, Dominick Chenes, is an exciting young tenor whose training included a season in Utah Opera's apprentice program eight years ago. His voice has power to spare, plus an appealing lyrical quality.
Soprano Sarah Tucker plays Micaëla, Don José's childhood sweetheart and the opera's only unambiguously moral character. As directed by Tara Faircloth, Tucker's portrayal refutes the old trope that "good" equals "boring"; her Micaëla won over Saturday's audience with her polite but firm assertion of her boundaries in the first act and her deft handling of Don José in the third. She sang both scenes beautifully.
Baritone Christian Bowers is the production's dashing Escamillo. His singing was suave and elegant, if a bit underpowered, on opening night.
Supporting performances in this production are uniformly strong. Cast as Carmen's smuggler pals, this year's Utah Opera resident artists Abigail Rethwisch, Sarah Coit, Christian Sanders and Markel Reed have solid vocal and dramatic skills, and their chemistry with Quagliata in the second act was fantastic. Tyler Oliphant and Kevin Nakatani likewise made strong impressions in the roles of the lecherous officers Moralès and Zuniga.
The Utah Symphony provides a stellar performance of the score under the direction of Robert Tweten. The orchestral sections that open each act were among the delights of Saturday's performance; woodwind playing was particularly enjoyable. The Utah Opera Chorus is off to a good start with its new chorus master, Michael Spassov; crowd scenes are dynamic and colorful. The presence of the exceptional choristers from the Madeleine Choir School, trained by Melanie Malinka, is an added treat.
Susan Memmott Allred's costumes, Yancey Quick's wig and makeup design, and Nicholas Cavallaro's lighting of the handsome Allen Charles Klein set added to the production's appeal.
Put a ring on it
Utah Opera opens its season with Georges Bizet's "Carmen." Singing and spoken dialogue are in French, with Supertitles in English.
When • Reviewed Saturday, Oct. 8; performances continue Monday, Wednesday and Friday, Oct. 10, 12 and 14, at 7:30 p.m., with a 2 p.m. matinee Sunday, Oct. 16
Where • Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City
Running time • A little over 3 hours, including two intermissions
Tickets • $21-$110; various discounts available; utahopera.org
In a nutshell • A soldier's obsession with an indomitable woman doesn't bode well for either of them.
Learn more • Pre-performance lectures by Utah Opera principal coach Carol Anderson an hour before curtain and post-performance Q&A led by artistic director Christopher McBeth, all in the Capitol Room on the west side of the theater; background reading at utahopera.org/onlinelearning