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With Its Overloud Orchestra and Overcrowded Scenes, the N.C. Opera’s Carmen Disappoints

Carmen, the title character of the North Carolina Opera’s fully staged production of Georges Bizet’s Carmen, sung in French with English supertitles, is a Spanish gypsy. Carmen (played again today at 2 p.m. in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium by Aleks Romano) is the embodiment of passion, desire, and love. Wherever she goes, she casts her spell. She plays by her own rules and effortlessly entrances men and then casts them aside. She wants what she wants, when she wants it, regardless of the damage that it may cause. Men desire her and beg for her love. She could care less. As she sings in the famous song, “Love Is a Rebellious Bird,”

Love is a rebellious bird that none can tame
And you call for it in vain if it doesn’t want to come….
If you don’t love me, I love you;
If I love you, do watch out!

When Carmen sets her sights on Don José (Sean Panikkar), a military man who is already promised to Michaëla (Raquel González), he tries but ultimately fails to resist Carmen’s charms. Unfortunately for Don José, Carmen quickly tires of him and takes up with Escamillo (Richard Ollarsaba), a bullfighter. Don José begs Carmen to love him, but she refuses; and this leads to his losing everything.

We have seen Carmen many times. Unfortunately, this particular production of the classic tale failed to leave us spellbound. In fact, it had some issues that sadly made it a disappointing evening.

Let us first say that the principal singer’s voices were terrific. Carmen (Aleks Romano) and Don José (Sean Panikkar) had great chemistry. Escamillo (Richard Ollarsaba) had the perfect pride of a bullfighter, and Michaëla’s song (sung by Raquel Gonzalez) brought out loud cheers from the appreciative audience. However, there were times when the volume of the symphony overwhelmed the singers, which was a surprise at an opera.

Next, while the ladies’ costumes were divine, the men’s outfits missed the mark. The women’s skirts and blouses were all ruffles and Spanish flair, and their hair was curled to perfection with flowers behind their ears. However, the men’s yellow military jackets were oddly large and ill-fitting, making them an unlikely military troupe.

As this story is set in Spain, one expects a bit of dancing. However, while the flamenco team brought in for the big dance scene flounced a skirt or two, their choreography seemed disorganized and did not add to the performance or the telling of the tale.

These things, along with a generally overcrowded stage and little dynamic blocking, left North Carolina Opera’s production of Carmen, conducted by Keitaro Harada and directed by Fenlon Lamb, wanting. However, we have had many a passionate night with the North Carolina Opera. In fact, our last evening with them left us breathless. So, while we are not ready to break up with them, we want to see other people for a little while.

P.S. The Maestro Channel (a television on the side of the stage where you can watch the conductor guide the musicians) was nifty.

SECOND OPINION: Jan. 26th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Roy C. Dicks: Jan. 24th Raleigh, NC Spectrum News Central NC interview with conductor Keitaro Harada, conducted by Caroline Blair:

The North Carolina Opera presents Bizet’s CARMEN at 2 p.m. Jan. 27 in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.

TICKETS: $23.46-$98.98, except $15 Student Rush Tickets on sale at 12 noon on Jan. 27th.


Ticketmaster: 800-745-3000 or

SHOW: and







Carmen (1875 four-act Paris opera): (Encyclopædia Britannica) and (Wikipedia).

Georges Bizet (French composer, 1838-75): (Encyclopædia Britannica) and (Wikipedia).


Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Click here to read her reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.

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