Fargo-Moorhead Opera fans dug out from Friday's snowstorm and received a warm welcome at Festival Concert Hall on the North Dakota State University campus.
Warm is an understatement, because FM Opera’s production of “Carmen” this weekend is downright steamy.
Cigarette-smokin’, gun-totin’, cat-fightin’, dirty-dancin’ divas? Is this the opera or “USA Up All Night”?
Maria Todaro’s take on Georges Bizet’s French classic adds a few new elements that only turn up the heat, namely taking the action from the 1800s to the late 1930s Spanish Civil War. This allows for the title character and her sisters in arms to be more strong-willed as women. Carmen isn’t just a Gypsy, she’s taking up the fight against a fascist oppressor and that’s pretty hot.
The character has always been flirty, but Hilary Ginther plays her as not just a pretty face but a free spirit, determined not to let anything, including men or fate, get in the way of what she wants, which is to live as she chooses.
Ginther is as beguiling with her acting as she is with her voice. When she first appears, it’s easy to see why men line the street, waiting for her. She charms them, teases them, leaves them wanting more and they are helpless about it.
When she turns her attention to the soldier Don Jose, played by Joshua Kohl, we know he’s incapable of resisting her. Who could? When he takes her into custody, her booking is as provocative as Sharon Stone’s interrogation in “Basic Instinct.” Later, when the two finally connect, literally Ginther hangs off of Kohl. That she does it while singing is impressive. This is not your parents' park-it-and-bark-it opera.
Even more impressive is her voice. The mezzo-soprano is effortlessly powerful and richly emotive. A graduate of FM Opera’s Young Artist Program in 2014, “Carmen” is her first notable role with the company and it’s not to be missed. This artist is well on her way to stardom.
Fittingly, the only match for Ginther’s Carmen is Robert Wesley Mason’s Escamillo, the bullfighter Carmen drops Don Jose for. It’s easy to see why. Mason owns the stage every time he’s on it, charismatic and magnetic and a joy to watch and hear. Kohl is great, especially in the second half where he is coming undone over losing Carmen. The lovers share some tender duets, but it’s hard to match Mason’s bravura when given the iconic “Toreador Song.”
The revelation of the show is Lara Ciekiewicz as Micaela, Don Jose’s would-be lover who begs him to leave Carmen and come back home. Her bright soprano matches the character’s innocence and hopefulness.
Conductor Eric Weimer keeps the orchestra in step for the lively score and works well with Todaro’s staging, setting the mood for the action and passion.
FM Opera is winding down its 50th anniversary celebration and it is saving the best for last. “Carmen” features great performances of memorable numbers and Todaro’s thoughtful direction offers a new twist, not just heating up an old classic, but rather lighting a fire for the whole company to carry forward.
If you go
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 13
Where: Festival Concert Hall, North Dakota State University
Info: Tickets range from $40 to $80; https://www.fmopera.org