From its opening fanfare through its iconic arias to its tragic climax, Carmen has been a staple of the opera repertoire for nearly a century and a half, and when you see Dallas Opera’s version (with three more performances through Nov. 4) you understand why… though maybe not for the musical reasons you expect. The story of an unruly gypsy woman (Stephanie d’Oustrac) in the south of Spain whose capricious love affairs corrupt and ruin an upright young soldier (Stephen Costello) is beautiful, but in the current staging, it’s also dramatically thrilling. From Carmen’s entrance, in which she introduces herself with the sultry minor-key folk music of the “Habanera,” the audience entirely understands why all the men in the garrison are obsessed with this woman.
It’s not enough that the plot tell us that Carmen is an enchantress — we have to believe it. And rarely has an actress been as captivating as d’Oustrac. Her vocal clarity is lovely, though her volume could be stronger; but her characterization and performance exceed any Carmen I’ve seen before. She’s physical and lively, expressive with her eyes. It’s almost impossible to understand how Don Jose (Costello) is able to resist her seductions as long as he does; when he finally relents, it sets him on a path of destruction that is one of the most believable in all opera. (We’ve all fallen for someone who’s no good for us.)
Costello’s sad-sack Don Jose contrasts beautifully to Alexander Vinogradov’s Escamillo, the flamboyant bullfighter who’s as sexually aggressive as Carmen; his teasing rendition of “the Toreador Song” is a highlight of Act 2. Then again, the entire production is nothing but highlights.
— Arnold Wayne Jones