Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly cited David Lawton as having altered Peter Brooks’ adaption of the Georges Bizet original, which is not true. Also, the original article incorrectly stated the Stony Brook Opera’s next show as “Fox Fables,” which is also untrue. The next show will be Mozart’s “Die Entführung aus dem Serail”1 on Friday, April 13 and Sunday, April 15 in the Staller Center for the Arts.
The orchestra begins to swell as the arms of the conductor rise, and Gloria Park, Stony Brook Opera’s own Carmen, steps on stage to tell a tale of jealousy, lust and freedom.
“Love is a gypsy child,” the projector reads as Park’s character romances Don Jose, played by guest artist John Bellemer. “It knows no law. If you don’t love me, I love you.”
Sung in its original French, with translations projected in English, “La Tragedie de Carmen” is a one-act reduction by Peter Brooks of Georges Bizet’s masterpiece, “Carmen.”
It retains the majesty of an age-old story, one of jealous lovers, murderous impulses and a young girl who tries to remain free from the men who wish to possess her and the society that wishes to tame her.
Conducted by Timothy Long, members of the Stony Brook Symphony Orchestra performed admirably, providing as much a setting for the opera as the lighting and props. The setting consisted almost solely of one table that functioned at times as a bed, a stool and a washroom.
The simplicity of the stage allowed the actors and the music to tell the story, and reduced distractions from the plot to a minimum. This was essential to keep the audience’s attention, especially when they had to focus back and forth between watching the stage and reading the translations of the words 50 feet above the stage.
The performances of Gloria Park, a mezzo-soprano earning her doctorate in music at Stony Brook, and guest tenor John Bellemer, who has appeared in leading opera houses across North America and Europe, were superb.
Their facial expressions and movements about the stage told the story as well as their voices did, drawing in the audience so thoroughly that not a single person left the auditorium during the performance.
Park’s portrayal of Carmen was that of an experienced and vivid actress, transforming herself into the charming schemer that it is a pleasure to hate. Though she manipulates the characters around her, Carmen is not simply a heartless wench who seeks to ruin all she comes across.
Inside this seductive, young, gypsy girl is a wild heart, one that refuses to give in to anyone’s demands but her own.
“Free she was born and free she will die,” Park proclaims as Bellemer’s Don Jose pleads with her to follow him to a new life. She does not love him anymore, and as such will not give in to his demands in the final duet of the performance.
Yet this wild-hearted girl draws tarot cards multiple times throughout the performance to predict her fate, seeing the card of Death every time.
“By entrusting her fate solely to destiny, she fails to see how she herself embodies the ultimate self-fulfilling prophecy,” said Stage Director Joachim Schamberger in his program note. “Carmen believes she is free, but she is not. Embracing her power to co-create her own fate with destiny could lead to true freedom, but of that she is unaware.”
Thus, he says, is the true tragedy of Carmen: the girl who longs to be free cannot truly be so until she releases herself from the fate she is resigned to.
David Smith, 75, of London, is a returning patron of the Stony Brook Opera, along with his friend Judy Wishnia, 73.
“I thought it was very, very interesting, the way that the Stony Brook version was completely changed around, and the singers of course were very good,” he said. “It was a very good experience. I would certainly come again.”
As part of a tradition of opera at Stony Brook, the singers participating in the program are primarily students of the doctorate music program, including Seung Hee Lee, a soprano whose character Micaela tries in vain to keep Don Jose from the seductress Carmen.
She performed with a genuine air of innocence, tinted with jealousy at Don Jose’s affections for the gypsy girl.
“I’m thrilled that there’s so much talent in this school that we didn’t know about, and that they have a forum,” said Andrew Breslin, a senior theatre and English major at Stony Brook.
Last year’s performance was of Cavalli’s Eliogabalo.
“I think it’s a wonderful cast, and we were so lucky to have John, who was the guest singer, so it was a great work,” said Park upon the close of the show.
Their next performance will be of Mozart’s “Die Entführung aus dem Serail”1 on Friday, April 13 and Sunday, April 15 in the Staller Center for the Arts.