There's nothing quite like a night at the opera -- especially an opening night when everyone is elegantly dressed and looking forward to a classic like Bizet's Carmen. It was nice to be part of full house in the Brown Theater -- a reflection of the consistently fine job that Kentucky Opera has done in fitting itself to the times and staying vibrant and relevant with its streamlined, engaging productions.
Director Kristine McIntyre's lean, darkly romantic Carmen is no exception, and she has a cast that ably carries out her vision of the story, focusing on Don Jose's barely contained violence. Scott Piper portrays Jose as a brooding and temperamental soldier, teetering on the brink of self-destruction even before Carmen ensnares him.
Tara Venditti captures not just Carmen's powers of seduction, but also her passionate vigor and independent spirit. Singing the famous "Habanera" about the fickleness of love, Venditti is playful and appealing. But as soon as she and Jose begin to tangle, the playfulness dissipates. There is nothing tender about their relationship -- in fact, it seems more like a cage match. The tenderness is supplied by the gentle Micaela, who brings Jose word of his mother and represents an alternate path for him -- one of duty and devotion. Heather Phillips is very touching singing the lonely aria, "Je dis que rien ne m’epouvante," as she searches for Jose in the mountains after he quits the military to join Carmen and her band of smugglers.
As Jose and Carmen continue their slide toward tragedy, a single source of lightness and humor appears in the form of the swaggering bullfighter Escamillo. Baritone Michael Mayes finds the right mixture of braggadocio and fun as he delivers the opera's other iconic aria -- the "Toreador Song."
You still have time to snag a ticket -- either to the matinee performance tomorrow, September 25 at 2PM or the added performance on Friday, September 30 at 8PM. All shows are at the Brown Theater, 315 W. Broadway. Single tickets ($35-78) are still available online  or by calling 502.584.7777.