The most important thing to remember before leaving for Wildwood Park is to get proper driving directions and leave yourself plenty of time to get there. Wildwood is a 105-acre park dedicated to the performing arts, located about 25 minutes west down Chenal Parkway and through the woods off of Kanis Road. And while this out-of-the-way treasure calls for a little more of a drive than the typical Friday night hot spot, the seclusion and beauty of the park and gardens makes the trip well worth it.
The park is stunning, and the voices ringing through it last Friday night only made it more spectacular. Wildwood Park’s production of “Carmen” was engaging and exciting to listen to.
Ann Chotard, Wildwood’s artistic director, called on the talents of Wildwood veteran Adriana Zabala, all the way from her home in New York, to play the lead role. She is everything a gypsy girl from Seville, who easily falls in and out of love, should be: exotic, seductive, sly and an amazing singer. Her voice was powerful and her character was intriguing. Zabala captivated the audience and brought life and passion into an opera that had its Paris premiere in 1875.
The setting is Seville and the year is around 1820. “Carmen” is the story of a beautiful, ill-fated gypsy who convinces Cpl. Don Jose (George Dyer) to abandon the military and his fiancee back home, and join her as a roaming gypsy. No sooner does he agree to all this than Carmen finds a new love, the toreador Escamillo (Robert Holden), leaving the story to end in a tragic act of jealousy and rage.
The set was sparse, leaving plenty of room for the singers to move and dance. Most of the props hung from the ceiling or were simple and easy-to-move crates and boxes. Lanterns hung from long ropes that extended the length of the stage, a rolling light post was used in the first act for the city square, and the tavern where Carmen convinces Don Jose to join the gypsy gang is created with a simple wooden table and chairs.
One permanent fixture on the stage was the very small orchestra, comprised of percussion, clarinet, piano and guitar. While the quartet, all very talented musicians, did an amazing job, the more dramatic moments like the bullfight and Carmen’s death scene seemed to be lacking in power, something that a fuller orchestra could have supplied. They played the music of Georges Bizet with precision and passion, though, even integrating the guitarist into some of the dancing scenes onstage.
The production was a mixture of song and dialogue, which made the story easy to follow. It was performed in English and in its original opera comique version.
The audience, looking only a little over half full, was quick to overlook the problems that come along with scaling down a performance. The power of the story and passion of the singers all made for a wonderful production.