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Spanish Civil War “Carmen” Revived

August 30, 1990

NEW YORK (AP) _ Moving the historical setting of operas around is a tricky task, and only a few productions have survived the transport of time and space.

Frank Corsaro’s ″Carmen″ at the New York City Opera is one of them, and the Spanish Civil War production that debuted in 1984 is being revived this season at Lincoln Center’s New York State Theater.

Instead of putting the action in Seville of the 1820s, the singers are transported to 1936, when Francisco Franco’s fascists were attempting to overthrow the Loyalists.

Carmen is a Loyalist leader instead of a gypsy and Don Jose is a fascist soldier whom she attempts to win over to the anti-Franco side. Escamillo, the toreador, is a drunk with fascist sympathies.

By giving everything political overtones, the attention naturally is shifted from the singing to the acting and the production. Even in the best of cases, this is a stretch, leading to such absurdities as the Rhinemaidens as prostitutes in the Patrice Chereau Ring at Bayreuth or the Citicorp building in the background of the Peter Sellars ″Figaro″ that was set in New York’s Trump Tower.

Nevertheless, the Corsaro approach holds up for the most part. It’s hard to watch Escamillo in a sports jacket and tie, looking somewhat like an overweight golfer, but it does fit quite nicely into the overall scheme of things.

One does miss the spectacle of the entrance into the bullring at the start of the fourth act; six soldiers parading back and forth do not quite adequately fill in the matadors and animals that are customary.

In Wednesday night’s performance, Sharon Graham sang Carmen, originated by Victoria Vergara in Corsaro’s original production. While Graham sang ably, she was not able to dominate the opera as a top Carmen should.

Brian Hilt made his debut with the company as Don Jose. His voice was powerful but seemed to strain at times, especially during the Flower Song.

Dean Peterson sang Escamillo and Michele Boucher was an especially sweet Micaela.

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