Sunday, May 8, 2011

Enigma/Carmen at San Diego City Ballet

I'm running around a week late these days. Apologies for untimeliness!

Last weekend was my first 'holiday' since late January, so I thought I would indulge myself a bit and catch the bus downtown late Sunday morning to either the opera or the ballet. The San Diego City Ballet was having its last performance of Enigma/Carmen at Spreckels Theater starting at the same time as the last performance of San Diego Opera's Faust at the Civic Theater (the halls are only two city blocks apart).
As I hadn't been to the ballet since 2002 though hadn't missed any opera in San Diego since Tannhäuser in 2008, it should have been a no-brainer for the ballet (especially since I've been itching to go to the ballet again since I saw Black Swan a month or two ago). But they (the San Diego City Ballet) were doing Carmen, which will also be the next opera in the SDO's line up, so I was quite torn in two and spent the hour before the show walking back and forth between the opera house and the ballet place. I would have loved to see a live performance of Gounod's Faust for the first time and the cast seemed very good for it (Stephen Costello as Faust, his wife Ailyn Perez as Marguerite, and Greer Grimsley as Mephistopheles)... and if I wasn't literally smoked right out of the Civic Center plaza while weighing the choices (there was this barbeque pit set up in the middle of the thing just below the fountain that was fuming up the place and threatening to set my allergy off) I might have gone in and get a rush ticket for the opera. As it was I escaped from the smoke and found myself exiting the south end of the complex... and just followed my momentum right to Spreckels for the ballet instead.

Smoke got in my eyes (and nose and lungs) walking around Civic Center Concourse on May 1st, 2011.
For $59 I scored a rather prime seat in row G of the Orchestra Level which was quite too close since the front part of the OL is below stage level (so if you are thinking of buying a ticket to a show at Spreckels Theater in downtown San Diego, be sure to get something beyond row J or so. Much better perspective of the stage from there). The City Ballet's Artistic Director, Steven Wistrich gave a brief pre-ballet 'lecture' before the show started a bit after 2PM.

I enjoyed the Enigma part of the show very much. It is all very robust contemporary modern dance to the music of Michael Cretu (piped in through the speakers on the front sides of the stage) and accompanied by pretty fascinating projected imagery to the 4 facades at the back of the stage. At times the projection distracted too much attention away from the dancers, but mostly it effectively supplemented the dancing. Aside from a few minor unsteadiness (a couple of 'will they make it to the crash pad in the wing before she tumble off his shoulder?' moments) the dancing was very well done and the choreography engaging. I thought I heard snippets of Maria Callas' voice singing bits from the Letter Scene of Massenet's Werther during one of the series of dance, mixed in with the more dancy modern music stuff.

Enigma and Carmen at San Diego City Ballet 2011 (photo: SD City Ballet)
I didn't like the Carmen part of the show, though. Aside from the authoritatively riveting Escamillo of John Henry Reid, the two principals who should have carried the show; Ariana Samuelson (Carmen) and Geraldo Gil (Jose) just didn't have enough charisma and stage presence to convince as their characters yet. I thought Samuelson did all she could in her dancing but was limited by her physique (and her blond hair didn't help as this particular character). Perhaps she tried too hard to act - though her gestures and movements were all done right and enthusiastically they didn't quite exude a lot of authority. Her partner, Gil, seemed simply indifferent, and made Don Jose even more a minor character that he already is prone to be (even though he shouldn't! He is the only character that develops and precipitates the key actions in the story).

My main peeve with the show; however, was the music editing... They used Bizet's music from the opera (sans singing) butchered into incoherency supposedly by Rodion Schchedrin and Leonard Bernstein (I shall probably be stoned by fans of the two now)... Well, since I had never heard the piece before (though I'm very familiar with the opera) I don't know if this thing was the work of Schchedrin and Bernstein uncut or if it was then re-rearranged by the SDCB (no live orchestra on performance. They used piped music), but it didn't make any sense. Some of the shows' most famous bits went missing (Habanera, Sequedilla, Act II intermezzo anyone?) and a lot of emphasis was paid on the minor dances (Carmen's act II tra-la-la-la was way overused) with no heed given to the opera's original use of leitmotifs. I guess those who didn't know Carmen opera music well weren't as disturbed for it, though. Also, the choreography was rather uninspiring and the scenes didn't transition from one to the next. In the end I was glad that the Enigma dance came in the first half of the performance or I'd have walked right out of the auditorium after Carmen and never saw it.

One thing impressed me in attending the show - although the small auditorium was far from filled the average age of the audience I could see was rather young. Quite younger than what you normally see in the opera auditorium.

The ballet was over just after 4PM, which left me a bit moody... I walked down Broadway to catch a bus home thinking, 'Man, you could have been at the opera now catching the last bit of the 2nd act... with that sublime Faust-Marguerite duet playing right about now!'

So... I wished I had gone to the opera instead, but I'm also glad that I did go to the ballet. Either way I did my bit of supporting a local art company while learning some new things and gaining more experience. I'm looking to catch one of the performances of Carmen at the San Diego Opera this month and perhaps attending another ballet before the year is out.


yvette said...

What is great in San Diego is to have such choice on matinée, ballet or opera? (that is also the case in Paris, but not in Marseille). It is nice to see you managed to find positive sides in this ballet, although you would have enjoyed Faust better, no doubt with the cast you mentioned!

Smorg said...

Hiya Yvette:
It was a good 'problem' to have indeed. :oD Alas, that was probably the last time such choice would exist here this year since the ballet is now out until June and the opera season ends later this month. After that it's just the symphony and some local chamber groups for us until 2011. :o)

Hope you and D are well and having a good May! We are really having a crazy allergy season here in the US west coast. Love the blooming flowers, though, no matter how much sneezing they cause. ;o)