“Carmen” – Arizona Opera

Opera Review – January 31, 2022


Arizona Opera, Symphony Hall
Phoenix AZ

By Chris Curcio
Theater/Opera Critic

It has been several seasons since I last attended an Arizona Opera production so when a friend gifted me a ticket to “Carmen,” I had no idea what to expect.  As I headed to Symphony Hall my hopes were high and when expert conductor Christopher Allen raised his baton to start the familiar overture, Arizona Opera was no longer a fledgling company but a major regional opera troupe.

The stellar orchestra under conductor Allen’s impeccable tempos impressed and then the curtain rose revealing an impressive unit set borrowed from the Atlanta Opera that immediately took audiences to the opera’s setting in Seville.  Masterful lighting guided audience eyes to the key parts of the stage action both musically and dramatically.  As the cast assembled, colorful costumes built by the Seattle Opera further enhanced the rich visual interpretation of Spain in 1820.

But the most striking part of “Carmen” was the fine singing by both the large ensemble and the impressively cast lead roles plus Stephanie Havey’s artful staging that kept the three-hour plus opera moving briskly while crafting stunning stage pictures further enhanced by Logan Pachciaz’s choreographic movements.

As the leads began singing, Bizet’s masterful score was presented with precise vocal excellence from performers who comprised the opera’s secondary cast.  From a friend who saw the premiere cast, it sounded like that ensemble was even stronger.  But what I heard were artful vocals by singers ready to move to major American and European opera companies.

Fleur Barron’s Carmen was an alluring and spunky interpretation.  She never stopped acting while producing glorious vocal embellishments to the score.  Matthew White’s Don Jose was spirited and feisty but always demanding of Carmen’s love and admiration.  Impressive Caitlin Gotimer’s Micaela stopped the performance several times with sprightly vocal acrobatics.  Supporting parts were given impressive performances.

Next up Arizona Opera will tackle Stephen Sondheim’s award-winning masterpiece, “A Little Night Music” which is a challenge to bring off both musically and dramatically.  Before “Carmen” began, Joseph Specter, Arizona Opera’s President and General Director, announced the 2022/23 season which includes two small operas, including a premiere at the Herberger Theater Center plus three major works at Symphony Hall – “Tosca,” Ariadne auf Naxos, an Arizona Opera premiere, and the annual musical theater work, the undistinguished but enormously popular Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The Sound of Music.”

“Carmen” was an impressive operatic achievement that allows Arizona Opera to take its place as a major American regional opera company.  “Carmen” will play two performances in Tucson on February 5 and 6.  For tickets, call the Arizona Opera box office at 602-218-7334.

Grade: A