Southern Ontario Lyric Opera
“Breathing new life into opera warhorses”

by | Mar 19, 2024 | Featured, Reviews


On March 2, Southern Ontario Lyric Opera (SOLO) presented Carmen at the Burlington Performing Arts Centre (BPAC). The compelling characters, the beautiful music, and the emotionally charged story line have meant that Carmen – which had a disastrous premier in 1875 – has become one of the most popular operas of all time. The BPAC’s 720 seat theatre was crammed with patrons ready to take in some Spanish sun after a long, dreary, Ontario winter. Artistic Director Sabatino Vacca has a knack for breathing new life into opera war horses by hiring veterans of the opera world while also placing up-and-coming young artists in key roles.

As with other SOLO productions, there was a palpable buzz around the titular female role, and Simona Genga lived up to the anticipation of her performance. Genga is a fine actress who, with a mere flit of a hand or a darting of her expressive eyes, is able to convey the hedonistic and impetuous forces driving her character. In a role that is so familiar, there can be a cartoonish quality about Carmen, but not so with Genga’s portrayal.  Add a velvety voice with lush undertones and an incredible range, and you have the makings of a memorable Carmen. Andrew Derynck was equally impressive as Don Jose. Having the appearance of a young Ben Heppner, Derynck had the vocal power and range to effectively portray the downward spiral of a hometown boy turned psychotic killer. His “La fleur que tu m’avais jetée” was a stellar example of what fine vocal technique and emotionally charged singing can produce; it was literally a show-stopper. The same can be said of Emily Rocha’s “Je dis que rien ne m’épouvante”.  Added to the cast literally days before due to an illness of the original Micaela, Rocha’s Micaela was stunning. Her fine, understated acting and her impressive vocal range made Micaela a powerful depiction of a woman who is a key element of the story, rather than a sweet interval to be endured until Carmen once again kicks up the dust with her onstage antics. Parker Clements was a suave Escamillo, his dark looks and flashing smile adding even more to his strong baritone presence. Daniela Agostino (Frasquita) and Alessia Vitali (Mercedes) were delightful as Carmen’s sidekicks. They delivered the vocal finesse needed in the card scene in Act III, as well as the rhythmic and vocal precision needed in “Les triangles des sistres tintaient”. Luke Noftall was a full-voiced Zuniga, Adam Sperry was a delightful Le Remendado, and University of Toronto student Ben Wallace was versatile and vocally powerful in the roles of La Dancaire and Morales. The children’s chorus was adorable, and their enthusiasm could not help but make one smile. The male chorus was weak and had difficulty with timing, while the women’s chorus was stronger and delivered a soaring response to “La cloche a sonné”.


Emily Rocha as Micaela © John Martens

Vacca’s graceful conducting, along with his innate understanding of Bizet’s phrasing and lyricism, was particularly compelling in the entr’actes with their beautiful oboe and french horn passages. The score of Carmen demands a strong brass section; unfortunately, the orchestra was hindered by trumpets which, from the get-go had difficulty with pitch and rhythm.

Kudos to Pamela Blackwood-Marques for her historically accurate and visually stunning costumes. Although director Gregory Finney used static blocking for the male and female choruses, he mixed in innovative choreography such as using only five leads and no supers in the gypsy dance at Lilias Pasta’s. His hilarious interpretation of smugglers Remendado and Dancaire added a much appreciated contrast to the underlying dark story.

Bravo to Vacca for working with young artists who will appear on mainstages across the world, while also encouraging local talent to give their best for this all-encompassing art form.

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Dawn Martens

Dawn Martens received a 2010 Ruby Award for opera education, as well as a 2020 Governor General’s History Award for Excellence in Teaching for an online children’s production of Brundibar. A writer for Opera Canada for over 20 years, she is currently the host of Opera Night in Canada on 100.9 Canoe FM.