Between this fire and water, two elements Brook often employs, the performers worked through their nasty dance of desire and revenge. Audrey Babcock (who alternated with Elaine Fox) played Carmen as a tough cookie indeed. When her rival, Micaela (Jill Pfeifer, alternating with Sarah Wolfson), confronted her, Carmen attacked her, ripping Micaela's blouse to shreds. Offered cash by a lusting army officer, this Carmen dropped to her knees in a flash for oral sex. Escamillo (Bill McMurray) sang the famed toreador song while stripping down to his jockey whites and nipple ring. Still singing, he stepped into the gondola for a long, languorous shower while Carmen leaned in, watching intently. The production featured plenty of drinking, smoking, and roughhousing with fights that were brutal and bloody, much more realistic than the usual opera.
The orchestra was led with assurance by conductor Stewart Robinson. Babcock sang with power and presence. Luis Carlos Contreras offered an engaging emotional range but hit a few flat notes in the course of the evening. McMurray made for a taunting, ironic Escamillo. The entire cast invested a good deal more thought and attention to the emotional beats of the story line than might be expected from opera singers and managed to keep their musical focus while singing within a physically demanding staging.
All of this yanked Carmen out of the pleasant narcosis surrounding most opera productions. This was raw theater that happened to be sung. It was hard to tell who the primary creator here was -- Brook or Guarino. One may well ponder whether opera should be considered drama or music, but any way you look at it, La Tragedie de Carmen was a bold, assured directorial vision. Regular playgoers who tire of standard theatrical projects might want to give the Florida Grand Opera a try.