Jupiter rocks; Carmen sags
Thursday, March 8, 2007 at 09:22AM
Stephen Brookes

March 8, 2007

The Jupiter String Quartet
The Washington Post 3/08/07:
  Is anything more daunting than starting a string quartet? The field is crowded, the competition intense, and the bar keeps rising to pitiless heights of virtuosity. But the young members of the Boston-based Jupiter String Quartet have been racking up an impressive string of prizes and displaying -- as they did Tuesday night at the Terrace Theater -- razor-edged ensemble work and imaginative depth beyond their years.

The evening opened with the fourth of Franz Joseph Haydn's Op. 20 "Sun" quartets, in D -- a quietly intelligent work full of Haydn's interplay of wit and elegant pathos. The Jupiter turned in a nuanced reading, displaying an almost organic unity in their playing.

But it was Bela Bartok's String Quartet No. 3 that really showed what this group can do. It's a work of startling power that still sounds audacious after more than 70 years, and the Jupiter tore into it with sweep and almost feral intensity, building a controlled explosion that never let up for an instant – a gripping and brilliantly-colored performance that left scorch marks on the brain.

It takes a major piece to follow Bartok, so the Jupiter returned after intermission with Beethoven's extraordinary Quartet in B-flat, Op. 130. After a rambling start, things quickly tightened up, and by the harrowing "Grosse Fuge" that closes the work it was clear that the Jupiter was back in full cry -- fearless, relentlessly powerful music-making by one of the most promising young quartets around.


Georges Bizet
The Washington Post 3/08/07:   Georges Bizet's tragic opera "Carmen" may be one of the most compelling stories of passion ever told. When the naive Spanish soldier Don Jose falls in love with the free-spirited and irresistible Carmen, he drags them both into a whirlpool of love, violence, treachery and death. It's a daring exploration of the wilds of the human heart, and it's still intensely fascinating.

Director Nick Olcott has, unfortunately, set out to change all that. In a stripped-down version for the In Series (running this week at GALA Hispanic Theatre) Olcott rewrote the drama to focus on the collision of Carmen's "need for freedom" (as he puts it) with Don Jose's "need for control" and "drive to win."

Uh-oh. If that sounds like a squishy exercise in gender politics, it should. Olcott's earnest approach drains away much of the tragedy's complexity and dramatic impact, replacing it with a bland tale of "boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy acts out in an inappropriate manner." There's little here to engage the adult mind; rather than a tragic lover, we get Don Jose in an extended fit of pique, and Carmen's untamable wildness has been replaced with some mild brow-furrowing over, one imagines, her "needs."

Mezzo-soprano Anamer Castrello sang the title role with warmth and real beauty, though she lacked the ferocity and sensuality to be a convincing Carmen. Peter Burroughs brought his fine light tenor to the role of Don Jose, there were excellent turns by all the supporting singers, and Alisa Bernstein and Lourdes Elias kicked in some fiery flamenco dancing.

Credit for keeping the drama moving goes largely to pianist Carlos Rodriguez, who wrote the orchestral transcription and provided enthusiastic if sometimes approximate accompaniment. 

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