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Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.

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The Miser of Paris—uh, Brooklyn

05/06/2024

Presenting a Molière comedy in Prospect Park has parallels with presenting a Shakespeare comedy in Central Park. Dramaturgs and directors pull up a 17th century script and tweak it to grab hold of a 21st-century audience’s attention, emphasizing the wit, charm and bite that made the original so vivid and enduring. Throw in some anachronistic humor, cast loose-limbed physical comedians in the roles, and today’s playgoers, especially the youngest, will be more than willing to suspend disbelief over a ridiculous plot and ludicrous resolution.

That’s what Brooklyn’s Molière in the Park does, and the way they do it is on display in its 2024 production of The Miser at the LeFrak Center. Admission is free, and the play is performed in the round with head-mics.

Harpagon, the elderly titular miser, is played as a man by a woman (Francesca Faridany), whereas his son Cleante has been changed into a daughter (played by Alana Raquel Bowers) with the same name. One can easily accept that the female Cleante loves Marianne (MaYaa Boateng)—the young woman whom the miser himself wants to marry. But one may still wonder why writer/translator David Chambers and director Lucie Tiberghien did not do as they did with Faridany as Harpagon: have Bowers play Cleante as the miser’s son. This, since the secret love of Harpagon’s daughter Elise (Ismenia Mendes) for his factotum Valere (Calvin Leon Smith) remains consistent with the original.

Cleante (Alana Raquel Bowers) pleads with her father Harpagon (Francesca Faridany) to let her marry the girl she loves; but Harpagon insists he wants to marry the girl himself!

The dialog is rapid, retaining just enough of the 17th century to convey Parisian mannerisms and daily life: a debt is denominated in crowns, francs, sous, and groats; and everyone takes a carriage to the fair. So the occasional “Okay!” and the use of a cellphone to bring in an offstage voice are funny, not distracting.

A simple three-level riser at center stage, designed by Marie Yokoyama, accommodates the action, and is nicely lit by lighting designer Stoli Stolnack. The actors (all Equity members) are at their comic peak, and are particularly adept in continuous, often hilarious motion. Daniel Pearce and Lisa Gorlitsky play multiple roles, sometimes changing in seconds from character to character—and they are all “characters!” Shoutout to Lakisha May as Frosine, the most ebullient matchmaker this side of Dolly. 

Lakisha May (Frosine) making a point about marriage and money.

The show runs about 80 minutes with no intermission. On opening night, though, a sound glitch an hour in forced an unplanned break. But that gave Molière in the Park’s Board President Kaliswa Brewster a chance to jump up onto the riser, cite the company’s outreach to underserved and unfamiliar audiences, and lob a softball pitch for donations. (Reader: it worked! My wife and I scanned the program’s QR code and contributed.)

In a year when the Delacorte is being renovated, and the Public is doing Shakespeare all over town, it’s worth taking the Q to its Parkside stop in Brooklyn and catching Molière en plein air.

The Miser will be performed at the LeFrak Center in Prospect Park through May 19, on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., and on Sundays at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Matinees are at 11 a.m. on Wednesday May 8, and at 3 p.m. on Wednesday May 15.

Opening photo, l-r: Harpagon (Francesca Faridany), Marianne (MaYaa Boateng), Frosine (Lakisha May) and Valere (Calvin Leon Smith), listen intently as a Spanish nobleman (Daniel Pearce, center) untangles the play’s romantic complications.  Photos by Russ Rowland.

Carmen at the Metropolitan Opera: Brilliant Music-Making

05/02/2024

Carrie Cracknell’s highly publicized new production of Carmen has returned to the Met with a new cast, and the cast is the sole reason why this production is worth seeing. The singing is superb on all levels and the orchestra sensitively conducted by Diego Matheuz richly nuanced and responsive to the singers.

Clémentine Margaine brought cool allure and smoldering sensuality to the role of Carmen as well as an untamable force that burst through her gleaming tones in cascades of striking vocal power. Her luxuriant Habanera could be a study in sophisticated, strategic seductiveness, effortless and creamy, teasing and purposefully restrained, with hints of danger coloring the perfect glistening roundness of her voice. In the Seguidilla, Margaine allowed herself more rawness of sound, especially when she succeeded in getting Don José to free her. The effect of the less traditional high note she released before reprising the Seguidilla theme was primal, like that of a wild force basking in regained freedom—all the more effective in contrast with the overall evenness of her voice. That visceral wildness resurfaced both during “Les tringles des sistres tintaient” and in the ensuing confrontation with Don José as she mocked him for his conformity to rules and sent him back to the barracks. Immobile in the face of presaging doom, Margaine delivered the Card Aria with poise and resignation, and as she wove her phrases toward the climax, she still seemed to emerge triumphant despite the funereal undertones. 

This was a Carmen that stared death in the face with the same coolness with which she handled the lust and passions of others. Margaine’s embodiment of the iconic role gave the impression of always being one step removed from her own participation in fate’s game, as though she were both player and observer of what was happening to her and around her. In this respect, Cracknell’s production contributed visually by beginning each act with Carmen’s silhouette behind a white screen and her hand touching that screen as if, conscious of a larger reality, she were attempting to find her way out of her circumstances. It even seemed as though Carmen were aware of the audience itself and longed to be among us watching her own fate unfold, as a perpetually uninvolved, free observer. The final duet with Don José swelled electric and ravishing, a breathtaking confrontation between two vocal powerhouses, with Margaine’s rousing retorts increasing in bravery and defiance, feeding off Michael Fabiano’s fiery, pleading, unhinged outbursts.

If there ever were an ideal combination of desperation, rage, obsessive passion, and romantic tenderness that remained believable to the end without any of those elements degenerating into exaggeration, Michael Fabiano’s Don José was it. Fabiano constructed his character on an intelligent dramatic arc, from shy reluctance to budding infatuation to lovestruck tenderness blended with lust, punctuated by a predisposition to violence revealing itself gradually in physical gestures and ferocious fury. His Flower Song was a show-stopping moment, magnificently sculpted in polished legato and brimming with sweet ardor, melting into breathtaking pianissimi at the end, which then made his descent into jealousy and rage even more terrifying. In his menacing phrases to Carmen, especially “Je te tiens, fille damnée,” it felt as though his engulfing, exciting, ominous sound was redefining the essence of possessive obsession then and there. And the final duet redefined it some more, as Fabiano unleashed supreme emotional force and vocal prowess, continuing to prove why he is one of the most thrilling Don Josés of our time.

Ailyn Pérez was in fine form as Micaëla, displaying refined lyricism, a melted-caramel vocal middle, and silky sweetness overall, showcased in moving phrasing adorned with lovely pianissimi. “Je dis que rien ne m’épouvante” glistened and flowed seamlessly, pleading and hopeful, ethereal and vulnerable. She infused her tones with a fierce yet still lovely steeliness in her final attempts to rescue Don José and bring him home. As Escamillo, Ryan Speedo Green exuded dashing movie star appeal. Arriving on stage in a red convertible, he delivered a bold, imaginative Toreador Song, and radiated confident charm when he flirted with Carmen.

The supporting cast was excellent, beginning with Benjamin Taylor as Morales, who, in his very few phrases, made an unforgettable impression thanks to the shining, abundant sonority of his voice. Wei Wu made for an imposing Zuniga. Sydney Mancasola and Briana Hunter brought freshness of voice, youthful playfulness, and compassion to Frasquita and Mercédès, respectively, while Michael Adams as Le Dancaïre and Frederick Ballentine as Le Remendado infused their characters with both virility and whimsy.

This production was written about extensively during its first run at the beginning of the year, which I missed. On a personal note, the night after seeing it, I had a nightmare of a truck with flashing lights chasing me. So, if the purpose of a production is to leave an imprint, this one certainly did. Dreams and subconscious triggers aside, I understand and appreciate the attempt to make opera speak to contemporary audiences and times. These transplants of the plot into modern-day U.S., as has been the trend here, often succeed in illuminating issues and raising thought-provoking questions. But for it to truly work, the transplant needs to happen at a deeper level. It can’t be only skin deep in its connection to the present by employing stereotypical tropes. Those act on the psyche like mindless scrolling through news or social media feeds without pulling the viewer in to the deeper layers and implications of the issues addressed. In this Carmen, it feels like Cracknell is trying to tackle major issues of our time, such as violence against women, labor conditions, smuggling of weapons, by offering random gestures and visuals, often drowning in tedious repetition. Ultimately, this staging felt like the result of scrapping together newspaper titles about hot issues of the day without giving us the full articles. And showing us that inescapable truck from various angles ad nauseam. 

Another major point of contention for me was the dance scene. If a director is going to incorporate hip-hop or street dance elements in it, at least he or she could take the time to find out what those elements actually look like instead of throwing together some spastic movements that sometimes resemble seizures. Or was that choreography an accidental commentary on the potential-seizure-inducing flashing lights from the numerous lightsaber-like structures all around the stage background? I have nothing against using flashing-light effects. But when they persist for too long, as they do here, they end up a nuisance that undermines the entire experience.

Objections aside, I still recommend seeing this production for its consummate music-making. This cast is truly brilliant vocally and artistically, the conducting masterful, and the orchestra and chorus resplendent. After all, you can always close your eyes if you need to—as I’ve needed to at certain moments during this performance—and enjoy a purely musical blissful experience.

Carmen runs through May 25 at the Metropolitan Opera. 

Info and tickets 

Top: Clémentine Margaine as Carmen and Michael Fabiano as Don José in Bizet’s Carmen at the Metropolitan Opera – Photo: Nina Wurtzel 

Tana French’s The Hunter – Life in a Small Irish Village

04/29/2024

Those who devoured Tana French’s stand alone mystery, The Searcher, hoped the novel was the start of another series. It was, and the second entry, The Hunter, leaves us eagerly waiting for the third one.

The Searcher introduced Cal Hooper, a burnt-out Chicago police detective who, seeking peace and quiet, moves to the small Irish village, Ardnakelty, and sets about renovating a small cabin. If he hoped to remain anonymous, however, he soon discovers there are no secrets in Ardnakelty. Plus, once a copper, always a copper. His young neighbor, Theresa, called Trey, seeks his help finding her older brother, Brendan, who has gone missing. Cal initially hesitates, but Trey is persistent and finally wins him over. The search doesn’t have a happy ending for Trey, but the experience bonds the two and the young girl soon is a regular in Cal’s shop, helping him repair furniture.

The Hunter begins on an upsetting note for Trey. Her deadbeat father, Johnny Reddy, who was often drunk and beat his wife and kids, is back, promoting a new get rich scheme. While Reddy’s financial situation has placed him and his family on the lower social and economic rung in the village, he can spin a good tale. 

During his time in London (although what he actually did there he never explains), Johnny tells a gathering in Séan Óg’s pub that he met a man whose grandmother was from Ardnakelty and talked about gold hidden in the hills. Cillian Rushborough says he has a map showing where the gold is buried, but being unfamiliar with the area, enlists Johnny’s help. The idea that gold might be found on someone’s land is enough to enlist the others in Johnny’s scheme. He wants each homeowner to contribute 300 pounds to purchase gold dust that can be sprinkled in the local stream, enough to convince Rushborough he should invest the funds necessary to dig for gold. Soon the locals are envisioning themselves in fancy cars and outfitting their women in designer clothes. 

Cal, having once worked fraud in Chicago, is certain that Johnny is running a scam. But he’s puzzled when Trey seems to believe her dad and actually wants to help. Cal’s girlfriend, Lena Dunne, who is close to Trey, also is confused. Cal knows from experience that to pressure Trey won’t work. So he does what he can to keep an eye on Johnny by pretending also to buy into the plan. 

When Cillian arrives in Ardnakelty he puts on a good show, talking with a posh accent about his wealth, how he was close to his grandmother, and even claiming to be related to some of the locals. Johnny has little trouble getting the funds he needs from the men. 

But when a body turns up, there’s no doubt the gold hunt was responsible for the murder. In the small village, everyone is a suspect, even Cal. A Dublin detective is dispatched to investigate and he zeroes in on Cal, ostensibly for his help. But, then again, a detective would know how to kill without leaving any evidence.

The Hunter is set in present time, but even with internet, cellphones, and television, Ardnakelty seems as remote as Brigadoon. Murder, however, can turn up anywhere, anytime. French has a way of reminding us of that fact, with intriguing characters who may live simple lives but still yearn for something more. And that pastoral setting, while beautiful and tranquil, can invite violence and evil.

The Hunter
Tana French

Top photo: Bigstock