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Flash Review 1, 3-29: Ole! in Orlando
Granados Puts Pizzazz in "Carmen"

By Melissa King
Copyright 2001 Melissa King

ORLANDO, Florida -- Somewhere in Peru, a 4-year-old little girl sits down to take piano lessons. There's a bit of a problem though. She can't sit still. She can't keep from jumping out of her seat to dance. Her piano teacher tells the girl's parents that she probably shouldn't be taking piano lessons, but that she should be placed in dance classes. So she begins training in ballet and Spanish dancing. Those of us who are dancers are very familiar with that same passion. Dance is something powerful inside of us that just has to come out! That little girl I told you about is now choreographer/dancer Gabriella Granados, the woman who choreographed Tuesday's Orlando Opera performance of Bizet's "Carmen" at the Bob Carr Performing Arts Center, starring Denyce Graves.

Now, I will be candid with you, I had never been to the opera before. I didn't know what to expect! Very loud voices without distinction in the words?? And how was dancing going to fit into this? Dance that is choreographed and performed by the founder and artistic director of the American Bolero Dance Company, a company which is best known for Spanish dance? Can opera really get that spicy and exciting? Well, I started doing my research. Assuming I wasn't going to be able to understand the words, I thought I had better know what the story is about before I go. So here is a very (very) short-form synopsis for those of you who are opera amateurs like myself. "Carmen" is about a man (Don Jose) who falls in love with a woman (Carmen, a gypsy), who seduces him from a state of indifference and promises him undying love. He succumbs and she eventually rejects him and falls in love with someone else. Don Jose becomes very jealous and angry, and stabs her at the end. Carmen dies. I'm sorry to give you such a rugged summary of the story, but I need to get on to the important stuff eventually, like the dancing! Anyway, I was very surprised to find out that the opera (at least this one) was much like a musical, something I am more familiar with. I really enjoyed the orchestra, voices, and the drama; and I was able to understand what was going on. Yeah for the English subtitles!

So, the curtains open for Act I, and I'm impressed by the rich colors of the costumes. The soldiers wore mustard-yellow uniforms, which was attractive and so different from the soldier costumes I'm used to seeing. The set was very simple, but the actors and their costumes were catching, so my attention was drawn to them instead of being distracted by a busy set. Okay, fast forward to Act II. The curtains opened with Gabriella Granados and Andres Estevez doing a Spanish dance on top of a table in a tavern. There was intense red lighting, not overpowering; it really set the right mood. Everyone's attention was drawn to these dancers. Granados looked so young and beautiful -- perfect for the part. I loved the rhythmic stomps, the tambourines and the sounds of the castanets. How could you not be mesmerized? Granados and Estevez were very precise and smooth in their movement, their partnership fitting together like puzzle pieces.

Estevez is from Cuba. He was with the Miami City Ballet for a year after moving to the States, and has now been with the Southern Ballet Theatre for three years. He said after the show that he was familiar with Flamenco, and had taken classes when he was growing up in Cuba. Granados said that even though he's not a Flamenco dancer, Estevez was very smart and learned quickly. "He did so well, that he was beginning to steal the show," she noted.

Now let me tell you a quick story about my friend Justin, who I brought with me. He is probably the most uncultured person I know, a meat and potatoes kind of guy, really into sports, thinks any type of food outside of Outback Steakhouse is scary. I have to give him some credit though, his interests are expanding, and he's getting more curious -- even trying new types of food. I almost fell over when he told me he'd go to the opera with me; it took me a few days to realize that he wasn't joking. His comment after Act II was, "The dancing was probably my favorite part because it was action -- I mean, I like hockey and that's action." It had never crossed my mind to compare dancing and hockey, but I'm glad he could relate! Ha-ha! That comment reminded me of a quote from Jack Handey: 'To me, boxing is like a ballet, except there's no music, no choreography, and the dancers hit each other.' That quote cracks me up every time I read it.

Act III opened with beautiful scenery. It was night and the backdrop was glowing with stars. For the first time in the night, I felt very peaceful. Granados and Estevez opened this act also, with dancing that was more lyrical this time. It was slow dancing, and I've never seen Spanish dancing like this before. The pair was beautiful, and once again their interaction with each other appeared effortless. It was like they were ice-skating. This scene was my favorite.

Act IV opened with Granados performing a solo. The music and dance grabbed my attention immediately; it had me moving in my seat. There was a lot of energy again with those rhythmic taps of the feet and the castanets. I think the audience loved the castanets: a girl sitting next to me told me that she's always wanted to see someone using them up close, and my friend loved how the foot stomping and tapping of the castanets worked so well with the music. I was unsure what was going on in the story at this time though, because I didn't read the summary for Act IV until I got home. It was sort of a gathering together for a bullfight. But even though at the time I didn't catch on to how the dancing was connected to this, I enjoyed it very much. No doubt that it was Spanish, and it was dynamic!

And what about the overall production of this "Carmen"? The show kept my interest. However, while it was appealing to my senses, my heart wasn't captured. The set, the costumes, and the actors were attractive to watch, while the orchestra and voices were music to my ears. It didn't leave me in that daze though, the one that puts that look of awe on your face or the tear in your eye. The kind of thing that happens when you notice nothing else around you and you feel like your heart is on the stage in the midst of the story. Since this is only my first time seeing "Carmen," I wasn't sure if it was the acting or the story line. I think it was really the story, and being that this is one of the most popular operas I'm sure there are many that won't agree with me. It just didn't establish a deep love and passion. I felt so disconnected watching two selfish lovers in desperation to either conquer the other or be set free, two lovers who fell in love based on seduction. That's just not deep enough for me. I didn't feel any romance -- all I felt was tension and frustration. I kept wondering why Carmen and Don Jose appealed to each other. I mean the story explains it, but my heart couldn't really feel it.

Michael Capasso directed, and Mark Flint conducted the Orlando Philharmonic. Set designs were by R.H. Graham, and costumes by Charles Caine.

You can still catch a performance of Carmen at the Bob Carr Performing Arts Center tonight at 7:30. The Bob Carr is located at 401 W. Livingston St. in downtown Orlando (407-426-1717). If you want to learn some Flamenco moves, you can catch Granados teaching at the Broadway Dance Center in New York City. I was privileged to spend quite a bit of time talking with her, and she is a friendly woman with quite a bit of energy and pizzazz. Sadly the Orlando Opera did not include her biography in the program, but I know that audience was still very impressed with her work.


At 18 Melissa King moved to Orlando, Florida to pursue a degree in audio engineering. Afterwards she moved to Atlanta to work in the tour support department of a small indie label. Eventually she moved back to Orlando and has been working as an audio engineer in post-production for the past four years. At 23, she realized that the safety and security she has found in her career is worthless as her heart is pounding for something else. She has recently decided to leave everything to pursue dance. She will be moving to New York shortly in order to learn as much as she can. She says, "It's not about a goal to perform, be the best, or what anyone else's definition of success is. It's about learning as much as I can about the thing I love most!"

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