Monday, March 24, 2014


Sheila and OreoBy Sheila Abrams

Reviewing an opera is a challenge. Almost as much of a challenge as producing one. There are so many factors to consider: the music, the play, the singers as singers, the singers as actors, the orchestra, the sets, the costumes, and on and on.

In considering the Eastern Opera of New Jersey’s presentation of Carmen, at the Brook Arts Center in Bound Brook the weekends of March 22 and 23 and March 29 and 30, we can start by eliminating the first two. As to the music, I’m not second guessing Georges Bizet. There is a reason his Carmen is one of, if not the, most popular operas the world over. It is a feast of gorgeous, spirited music that is colorful, passionate and even singable. Yes, you may leave the theater humming one of its “hit” tunes.

And I’m not going to examine the play. Based on a French novel forgotten except for its incarnation as an opera, it has a convoluted plot and is, like many opera plots, melodramatic and silly. But it doesn’t have to be great theater because it’s a vehicle for the music, and from that perspective, it works very well.

The Eastern Opera deserves plaudits for undertaking a production of a full-length, fully-staged opera, and it can be said without reservation that the audience at last Sunday’s matinee was overwhelmingly enthusiastic. As slick and perfect as the Metropolitan Opera’s Met Live in HD events are (on movie screens everywhere), there is nothing as exciting as live music by live performers. That’s what the Eastern Opera offers, as well as the opportunity to rub elbows with performers in person.

The 14-piece orchestra, under the direction of Dr. Robert W. Butts, did justice to the energetic music from the first notes of the overture. Butts, whose enthusiasm always comes through in his interpretations, is an ideal conductor for Carmen. He also serves as a guide to the happenings on stage, which, though the piece is performed in English, would probably be opaque to at least some of the audience.

The singers in featured roles were for the most part wonderful. In the title role, soprano Karole Lewis was superb. Her fiery performance of the famous Habaῆera in the first act was thrilling. A convincing actress, Lewis has an expert stage presence and moves well in a role that demands a dancer’s grace.

It should be mentioned that Lewis is the production’s director and serves in numerous other positions with the company. As well as being President of the Board of Directors, she was, we were told, responsible for the surprisingly handsome sets and costumes that made this production look so good. Lewis is indeed a woman of many gifts.

Vocally, there were some other outstanding performances. As the tortured Don José, Peter S. Lewis has a fine tenor voice. Baritone Ted Dougherty made a dashing bullfighter, Escamillo, bringing cheers with his rendition of what is arguably opera’s most famous aria, The Toreador Song.

Other notable vocal performances were by Jacqueline Levia as Micaela, Don Kalbach as Zuniga and Kevin Peters as Remendado.

There are two performances remaining of the Eastern Opera’s Carmen this coming weekend, at 8 PM on Saturday, March 29, and 3 pm on Sunday, March 30. The Brook Arts Center is at 10 Hamilton St. in downtown Bound Brook.