Dallas — One of the hardest jobs a conductor will ever face is to step in to an already opened production to cover for the original maestro. This is the challenge that faced Pierre Vallet on Oct. 24 as he took the podium for The Dallas Opera’s production of Bizet’s Carmen at Dallas’ Winspear Opera House. TDO’s music director, Emmanuel Villaume, opened the show and will conduct most of the performances, but his international schedule conflicted with a few. So, enter Pierre Vallet to take over two presentations—including the Friday, Nov. 2 Carmen being simulcast live to Klyde Warren Park.
Vallet is a fine conductor, also with international credits. His style is crisp and precise but also filled with feeling and subtle rubato. He attended the rehearsals and thus had steeped himself in the agreed upon tempi and nuance of the production. Yet, he brought his own stamp to task. The overall pace of the opera felt slightly faster than under Villaume’s tutelage but, much to my surprise, Vallet’s running time was only a minute short of the running time of opening night. A mystery? Perhaps faster parts went faster and slower parts were slower? Whatever the reason, it turns out that Vallet’s interpretation was both the same and yet completely different from Villaume’s. As a conductor myself, I was absolutely fascinated to hear and equally enjoy them both.
It is one of the great problems that critics always face in having to review opening night. There are many reasons for this, but mostly it is about the short run of operas. If a review doesn’t appear after opening night, you run the risk of the show being over, or remaining performances sold out, before the review is even published. Broadway shows have out-of-town tryouts and/or a month of preview performances in which to work out all of the hiccups. Not so with the opera. Opening night is when we get to review, hiccups or not.
There weren’t any such hiccups on opening night of Carmen, at least none that I noticed. But the Oct. 27 performance was remarkably improved. All of the voices, rid of opening night jitters, were noticeably better as was the acting. In fact, “acting” per se vanished, as the now more comfortable singers inhabited their roles, becoming their iconic characters. This was especially true for the powerhouse tenor Stephen Costello, who is singing the juicy role of Don José for the first time. His distinctive depiction of Don José as a low-key guy on the outside that conceals a hair-trigger temper of dangerous proportions, while there on opening night, this character flaw was more clearly defined on Wednesday.
It was hard to imagine that Stéphanie d’Oustrac’s Carmen could get any more vivid than it was on opening night, but that’s what happened. Soprano Sara Gartland’s voice is still a scotch on the spinto side for my taste, but it is hard to quibble with her gorgeous singing. Alexander Vinogradov also sounded better on Wednesday with his voice much brighter and better placed.
The set remains a problem, especially in the last act when everyone on the stage is squeezed into a mere sliver of the set. It was even more irritating to learn that, behind the huge wall, the stage was empty, which would allow for the wall to move back considerably to give the actors decent downstage space. Perhaps this is because the set has moved around considerably and suffered from many subtractions and additions.
Unlike I stated in my review, the set was originally designed for U.K.’s prestigious Glyndebourne Opera and it was purchased by, and rented from, Sweden’s Göteborgs Operans Danskompani Theater. Stéphanie d’Oustrac was the original Carmen when the set debuted. It is possible that the Winspear didn’t have the ability to properly mask the edges of the wall properly and thus had to move it downstage. This is pure speculation, of course.
No matter which Maestro is conducting, fans of this opera, or opera in general, owe it to themselves to catch this superb production.
» Vallet conducts the 7:30 p.m. Nov. 2 performance, which will be simulcast for free on a screen in Klyde Warren Park. Villaume conducts the final performance at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 4.