Cen­tral City’s “Car­men” is smok­ing

The Denver Post - - LIFE & CULTURE - By Ray Mark Ri­naldi

Cen­tral City Opera’s “Car­men” is everything you want it to be, and then some — sexy, sul­try and just a lit­tle sleazy. Its fa­mous hero­ine uses and abuses just as she is known to do, teas­ing men and tempt­ing fate un­til it all catches up to her in one vi­o­lent mo­ment.

As a pro­duc­tion, it is pleas­ing and ter­rif­i­cally tight and ul­tra­tra­di­tional, just as its cre­ators imag­ined it in 1875. Di­rec­tor Jose Maria Con­demi has, for the most part, re­sisted mess­ing with the for­mula as some like to do to keep fa­mil­iar ti­tles fresh for au­di­ences who have seen them a dozen times or more. In­stead, he has gone the op­po­site way, push­ing his char­ac­ters to feel and in­dulge in the nu­ances of com­poser Ge­orges Bizet’s em­phatic mu­sic. Everything, from the cos­tumes to the sets to the singing, hon­ors the opera’s lusty, lurid essence.

Call the fire de­part­ment, this “Car­men” is smok­ing. And so is ev­ery­one else on stage; they light up cig­a­rettes at ev­ery chance. Con­demi em­ploys their de­lib­er­ate puffs as punc­tu­a­tion marks. Car­men can use her long draw as a come on, stretch­ing her neck and of­fer­ing a se­duc­tive, side­ways glance. Or she can make it a turn-off, ex­hal­ing a rude cloud di­rectly in a suitor’s face.

It’s not all so tough, this show, thanks to so­prano Emily Pul­ley, who makes a dif­fi­cult char­ac­ter ap­peal­ing. Car­men is a self-de­scribed devil who de­pends on her phys­i­cal al­lure to get what she wants. She isn’t nice to the men or the women she en­coun­ters in this story.

What makes her en­dur­ing, though, is her tena­cious­ness and pride. She knows who she is — a sec­ond-class cit­i­zen in a world where men rule and gyp­sies like her are scorned — but she rep­re­sents with dig­nity, tak­ing on all chal­lengers. Pul­ley has the act­ing chops to bring au­di­ences along for the ride.

She also has that other thing ev­ery Car­men needs to suc­ceed: a killer voice. Pul­ley’s is rich and earthy, full of charisma. It yanks a lis­tener in; turns an un­lik­able dragon deadly en­chant­ing.

“Car­men” is not easy to pull off at the Cen­tral City Opera

House, one of the small­est opera venues in the coun­try. The theater has just 550 seats and the stage is so small, it can some­times feel like you are watch­ing a big-screen tele­vi­sion rather than wit­ness­ing the world’s most elab­o­rate art form. That is, of course, both the joy and the chal­lenge of this lo­cal, cul­tural trea­sure.

This pro­duc­tion does, at times, suf­fer from the limited size of the house. The so-called “march of the tore­adors” in Act 2, one of the most fa­mous scenes in all of opera, calls for an elab­o­rate pageant treat­ment — and that’s re­ally not pos­si­ble in Cen­tral City. Things don’t shift so grace­fully from the for­est to the bull­fight­ing arena to the cigar fac­tory; it’s no one’s fault, only so much scenery can fit in this place.

But this pro­duc­tion over­comes that ob­sta­cle via its stel­lar cast. The cho­rus is par­tic­u­larly youth­ful and dy­namic. The orches­tra, with Adam Turner con­duct­ing, adds an en­ergy that’s both com­pli­men­tary and en­gag­ing on its own.

Then there is tenor Adri­ano Graziani, who brings pro­tag­o­nist-an­tag­o­nist Don José to a slow and pow­er­ful boil; so­prano An­gela Mortel­laro, who makes the ques­tion­ably­writ­ten char­ac­ter of Mi­caëla ac­tu­ally sound in­ter­est­ing; and bari­tone Michael Mayes, a Cen­tral City fa­vorite, who blends com­edy and gal­lantry into a mem­o­rable Es­camillo. These char­ac­ters are all stal­warts of the genre, and they’re res­ur­rected with skill and re­spect.

This is summer opera at its most ap­peal­ing. It’s fa­mil­iar in that way opera au­di­ences en­joy, but not so rev­er­ent that it feels like an­other warhorse on re­peat. It’s a good choice for both reg­u­lars and folks who have never made the jour­ney to the hills of Cen­tral City.

Amanda Tipton, Long­mont Times-Call

Emily Pul­ley is Car­men and Adri­ano Graziani is Don José in the Cen­tral City Opera’s “Car­men.”

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