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A Convincing Carmen, but . . .

Michael Hendrick's Don Jose was all singing, no acting. Angela Horn in the title role, however, was outstanding.


Women and men are constantly at each others' throats in Bizet's "Carmen." Beneath all the business about bullfights and smuggling are deeper themes: War as love. Love as war.

In the second night of Opera Pacific's new production of the work at the Orange County Performing Arts Center on Wednesday night, a pair of alternate leads only partially succeeded in evoking that undercurrent of violence latent in love.

Though both sang magnificently, and mezzo-soprano Angela Horn carried off the role of Carmen with convincing tempestuous energy, Michael Hendrick was not as persuasive playing the naive hothead Don Jose.

To begin with, Hendrick is too bulky to comfortably play the handsome young soldier lured by Carmen into a life of crime. More critically, he, like so many operatic singers, does not effectively use movement and body language to develop his character. Nothing he does onstage tells us that this is a man who cannot control his emotions.


The final duet illustrates the problem. When Carmen defiantly meets her former lover, knowing he will kill her, Don Jose is virtually inert onstage, sending no signal to the audience--except in words, in French--that he is seething and tormented. If we didn't know the plot and couldn't understand the lyrics or read the supertitles, we would have little idea what he was feeling.

All things considered, however, this was a strong second night in a pleasing new production.

Horn provided the most outstanding performance overall. Not only does she certainly look the part--with wild black hair and a spectacular figure--she carried it out with physical as well as musical energy. If her voice ever was overwhelmed by the orchestra or chorus, it was only when she perched on a fruit-seller's cart or carried out some other bit of stage business that would put a crimp in anyone's breath control.

Hendrick, for all his deficiencies as an actor, nonetheless sang very well, with a rich and subtle tenor that was particularly thrilling in the high range. Apart from some pitch problems in a second-act duet with Carmen, he was musically, if not dramatically, compelling.


Opera Pacific presents a new production of Bizet's "Carmen" today and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. $29 to $107. (714) 556-2787.

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