REVIEW: Carmen: The Met Live in HD

The Metropolitan Opera hosts viewings of select operas in movie theaters across the country, under their series “Met Live in HD”. These performances on screen are marketed at an affordable price, to increase accessibility efforts in opera. The 2024 year premieres with Bizet’s Carmen, an iconic staple of Opera literature. 

Young Russian Soprano, Aigul Akhmetshina, takes the stage as the youngest ‘Carmen’ to perform at The Met. Her demanding presence is alluring, along with her spunk and sense of unpredictability. She was a force to watch on stage, equally expressive and keen to the role. She sings alongside Met Opera greats: Piotr Beczała, Angel Blue, and Kyle Ketelsen. This quartet was truly remarkable, each buzzing with personality and vocal virtuosity. Akhmetshina is contracted to sing ‘Carmen’ at opera houses and festivals around the globe until at least August 2024.

The story of Carmen’s success is quite a tragic one for the composer, Georges Bizet. Bizet struggled to get his work on stage, though a fresh winner of the Prix de Rome. 1875 Paris was not fond of his depictions of proletarian life, lawlessness, and a tragic ending with an aggressive on-stage death. However, the historically controversial themes have been embraced by modern viewers and the score has trickled into aspects of pop culture, making songs like “Habanera” one of the most well-known arias to date.

The Met revels in creating the most aesthetically unique productions of Carmen year after year. Director Carrie Cracknell makes her Met debut taking a stab at a modern adaptation of ‘Carmen’s’ adventures and escapades. This production is set in the 21st Century, with references to gun violence, systemic labor abuse, and female empowerment. Her directing choices were clear and concise, revitalizing a story seeping with stereotypes and sexism. 

I would recommend seeing a Met HD Opera in theaters. It is an intimate way to experience some of the most distinguished operas in the United States. 



235 minutes. Not Rated. Includes gendered violence, cigarettes, and sexual themes. Sung in French with English subtitles.

Synopsis and more on Carmen HERE.

Met Live in HD showings HERE.


Image thanks to New York Theater Guide.

REVIEW: Gianni Schicchi

The University of Michigan’s Voice and Opera Department features two fully-staged operas per semester: one large production at the Power Center for Performing Arts and one “Chamber Opera” at the McIntosh Theater in the Earl V. Moore Building. The Chamber Opera is a semester-long commitment that students audition for at the start of the term. This results in a performance of two shows at the end of the semester. This year, the class performed Giacomo Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi (1918) directed by the infamous and well-respected Mo Zhou. The show was minimal in production but grand in performance. The show boasted many great triumphs in the often-overlooked realm of Chamber Opera performances at SMTD. 

Gianni Schicchi is a one-act farce that revolves around the scheming family members of the wealthy Buoso Donati. When Buoso dies and leaves behind a substantial inheritance, his relatives are desperate to claim their shares. However, they discover that Buoso has bequeathed his wealth to a monastery. In a clever twist, the family enlists the help of the cunning Gianni Schicchi to impersonate the deceased Buoso and rewrite the will in their favor. The opera explores themes of greed, deception, and the consequences of manipulating legal matters for personal gain. The music follows the trend of Puccini’s rich melodies and clever attention to lyricism. This story sparked Puccini’s writing— implementing challenging and chaotic Italian phrases to match the disorganization of the family. This requires virtuosic singers with immense attention to detail, which was apparent in this production.  

This cast was filled with a variety of ages, from first-year voice majors to the highest level of education for vocal students at SMTD. Each student brought an eclectic, originally developed character into the performance. The characters had clear intentions and balanced the comedy of the opera with virtuosity and vocal integrity. Opera productions do not use microphones, and it remains astounding to me to hear the raw opulence behind these skilled voices. This production reminded me of the balancing act of opera: maintaining masterful singing while implementing physicality and strong acting choices. The cast handled this skillfully, producing a performance that demanded attention from the audience.    

This opera includes the famous aria “O mio babbino caro”, sung by Schicci’s daughter, Lauretta (Cinderella Ksebati). Ms. Ksebati brilliantly maneuvered through the octave leaps and expressively romantic musical lines. Her aria was an unforgettable moment in the show. The avaricious Zita (Aria Minasian) dazzled the audience with her hearty contralto voice—a rare gift to hear onstage. Simone (Xavier Perry) conducted some of the most hilarious and memorable moments in the show. Perry’s attention to detail and capacious vocal quality were well-received by the audience, along with his sensitive comedic timing.

The set design was effective for the minimal space in the McIntosh Theater. The moment the show began, the scene and characters were immediately understood from the set before a thing was said. The crumbled papers, assorted clutter, and vintage furniture informed me of the disorganized and materialistic qualities of the family. The production could have been further enhanced with specific lighting design that was unfortunately unavailable in the McIntosh Theater. 

The successful and admired production of Gianni Schicchi brings the 2023 SMTD Voice and Opera Department productions to a close. Next semester, a 2017 opera entitled Elizabeth Cree will be performed March 21-24 at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater. 

Aria Minasian (left), Jabari Kacim (center), Xavier Perry (right).



Image thanks to Lydia Qiu with University of Michigan SMTD.

REVIEW: Orpheus in the Underworld

Orpheus in the Underworld (translated title) marks the premiere opera this season for the School of Music, Theater, and Dance’s vocal department at the Power Center for the Performing Arts. This runs for one weekend only, so get your tickets soon! Of the many versions of Orpheus and Eurydice’s tragic tale, this reigns as the goofiest production thus far. This whimsical satire is accompanied by fanciful costumes, a wholly creative set, and an ingenious allegory about the nature of capitalism. Director Mo Zhou brilliantly stated: “[Orpheus] is a mirror that reflects not only the capricious antics of the deities but also our contemporary world. It teases out the subtleties and complexities within the upper echelons of society, a world painted in various shades of grey.” (I don’t think I could give a more brilliant explanation if I tried!) I thoroughly enjoyed this opera and thought it was a refreshing choice after last season’s close with Don Giovanni by W.A. Mozart. If opera-singing and can-can-dancing Greek gods are an interest of yours— this opera is for you!

Orphée aux enfers is a French-language opera composed by Jacques Offenbach with a libretto by Hector Crémieux and Ludovic Halévy (English translation by Jeremy Sams). You may be familiar with the famously known and cheekiest song from the opera, the “can-can”, which is often used in pop culture. In the score, it is called the “Galop infernal,” roughly translating to “the hellish gallop”, as they famously kickline in Hades’ Underworld. This opera is conventionally all performed in French, but for this version, all the dialogue was performed in English with arias performed in French. I came into the performance skeptical of this method for continuity’s sake but left the theater agreeing with the decision for a predominantly English-speaking audience. Since many of the performers were native English speakers, it was much easier to make conscious acting choices since they were not dealing with French diction. For an academic setting, this was a great choice! The arias were beautifully performed in the original French, with phenomenal, stand-out performances by Tyrese Byrd (Arsteus/Pluto), Jack Morrin (Jupiter), Sohyun Cho (Eurydice), and Veronica Koz (Cupid). The chorus was equally thrilling and brought a beautiful liveliness to the atmosphere of the show.

The design for this show was spectacular. Scenic design was created by Kevin Judge, costumes by Sarah M Oliver, lighting by Marie Yokoyama, and hair/make-up by Brittney Crinson. Truly, there was always something to look at, or a small detail to become enamored with. Each tableau filled the entire space on the Power Center stage. Within the first moments after the curtain, the set had transported me somewhere. The world that was about to be created was immediately understood by the audience. The colors, dimensions, and vintage image backgrounds were all so charming. The 1950s setting was a very lovely stylistic choice, and I found it well executed throughout. The style was consistent between direction and design choices and these ideas flourished well throughout the show’s tableaus and costuming changes. SMTD has an undoubtedly polished and impressive design team, consistently dazzling audiences with their work on University Productions.

Orpheus in the Underworld was directed by the infamous Mo Zhou, who is fairly new to the School of Music, Theater, and Dance, having joined as an opera director and assistant professor in 2021. Ms. Zhou is greatly appreciated by the opera community for her innovative and fresh ideas in beloved classical works. She has a decorated resume and has worked with renowned classical music programs such as Glimmerglass and Music Academy of the West. She has worked domestically with the Virginia Opera, Minnesota Opera, Boston Baroque, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Houston Grand Opera, and Dallas Opera. Additionally, Professor Zhou has extended her skills to international levels, working with the National Centre for the Performing Arts in China, Staatsoper Unter den Linden in Berlin, and Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, Germany. Ms. Zhou’s direction is playful, methodical, and keen. Orpheus was a testament to her brilliance—she created beautiful tableaus and effortlessly hilarious yet dramatic moments between characters. I admire her attention to detail in world-building and the thoughtful intentions behind each character. 

Orpheus in the Underworld proved to be a hit this Friday at the Power Center. There will be performances on Saturday, November 4th at 8 pm and a Sunday matinee on November 5th at 2 pm. Up next for the voice department will be Gianni Schicchi, the hysterically scandalous Puccini opera. This will be performed in McIntosh Performance Hall in the Moore Building on North Campus, on November 30th and December 1st. 

Images thanks to The University of Michigan and the School of Music Theater and Dance Facebook.

PREVIEW: The Pirates of Penzance

The Department of Musical Theatre is performing Sir Arthur Sullivan and Sir William Gilbert’s quintessential comic opera for two more nights! The Broadway version of The Pirates of Penzance,  featuring visual gags, delightful dances, and enchanting melodies, is in its final weekend of performances at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater. If you haven’t seen this hilarious farce yet, you can still catch it Saturday, October 19th at 8pm or Sunday, October 20th at 2pm for a delightful, silly musical!van