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[whitespace] Liliane Cromer, Jorge Gomez
All Fired Up: Liliane Cromer and Jorge Gomez get acquainted in 'Carmen.'

Lyric Lust

Bay Shore Lyric Opera imbues 'Carmen' with passion and drama

By Scott MacClelland

SOMEBODY AT Capitola's Bay Shore Lyric Opera has a keen instinct for casting. It's as though they learned the craft from the best TV ensemble sitcoms. (That's a compliment, in case you were wondering.) Take tenor Jorge Gomez, for example, in the new production of Carmen. He isn't half the actor his title-role counterpart, mezzo Liliane Cromer, is but he loads the drama into the voice, a talent most singers search for in vain.

As the hapless Don José, Gomez sang his way into sympathetic desperation, even if his physical moves and furtive glances suggested ongoing distraction from the situation in front of him. As a stage portrayal, this José reminds one of the bewildered and pathetic Wozzeck.

Cromer obviously blossomed as Carmen, a role that demands feminine wiles of the utmost passion and impulse. One of the toughest calls for Carmen, however, is a convincing ambivalence. After falling for José in Act 1, she must turn on him when he places duty above love for her, then be seduced by his "Flower song" in Act 2. In the next act, she hardens her heart against him again after he jealously manhandles her.

In the opening-night performance, Cromer--who is no stranger to this company--not only lost focus through these emotional upheavals, but often allowed her stage presence to dissipate during the large ensembles. This was more for want of acting (to say nothing of a prima donna's instinct to upstage) than for singing itself. If Cromer was not always in command of the stage, she nevertheless delivered an impressive performance, vocally gutsy and desirably lusty.

The other Gomez, Roberto, appeared as the torero Escamillo, and played his part near the top to good effect. This is a lyric baritone, however, and it ran out of juice at the low end. As if to compensate, Gomez moved through his character with macho smoothness and charismatic looks.

As Micaela, Jennifer Der Torossian went over the top in her third act aria, developing an unseemly passion that outran the character, pushing her vocal production into coarseness. Alexandra Garner as Frasquita, Terry Alvord as Mercedes and Thomas Pertel as Zuniga all made vivid impressions theatrically and vocally, with Garner's soprano punctuating ensemble cadences like the star on top of a Christmas tree.

The large cast included a troupe of colorful Spanish dancers, two adult choruses, a children's chorus, soldiers, townsfolk and smugglers. Colorful costumes and skillfully designed sets maximized the small stage area, and a procession through the theater and onto the stage in the last scene further enlarged the illusion of space.

Conductor Jun Nakabayashi had his hands full running an orchestral design while giving the vocalists crucial guidance in phrasing and cutoffs. His rhythmic crispness paid off, driving the inexorable narrative into clarity and motion. As he got more comfortable with the pace of performance he allowed more room for flexibility and elasticity. Without dawdling, the Act 3 intermezzo was a lovely moment.

In fact, the orchestra of 28 musicians acquitted itself handsomely. Although the Capitola Theater is acoustically dry, its barrel vault (Quonset) ceiling creates odd focal reflections of the principals. As the singers move about the stage, their voices appear to move about the audience.

While it is hard to understand why the opera companies of the Monterey Bay are so obsessive about the same small handful of operas (UCSC did Carmen last spring; Bay Shore did Madama Butterfly in April, and the Monterey Opera opens Madama Butterfly Nov. 3, etc., etc.,), ones hopes that such competition will continue to raise standards. Except for a few supernumerary weaknesses and an occasional choral splatter, this production of Carmen has much going for it, not least the development of characters and their emotions. Easily, it's the best locally produced Carmen to date.

Carmen plays Friday-Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 3pm (Nov. 12 at 7:30pm) at the Capitola Theater for the Performing Arts, 120 Monterey Ave., Capitola; $24-$34; 462.3131.

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From the October 25-November 1, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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