("Carmen Cubana" in Pažaislis Festival) Vaiva Mažulytė, 2008 06 10 

"Carmen Cubana". Photo from 

Admirers of Pažaislis festival who gathered in the hall of Vytautas Magnus University on June 7-8 were the first in Lithuania who confronted the Latin pop opera “Carmen Cubana”. Applause rolled, the best emotions were expressed, the audience stormed along with the performers, and Lithuanian restraint disappeared without a trace.

The success of the concert was determined by the passion of performers rather than the opera itself. The work of Martin Gellner, Werner Stranka and Kim Duddy is not special by itself. Extracts from the original masterpiece of the 19th century opera “Carmen” by George Bizet are combined with pop and Latin-style songs, and everything together was called a Latin pop opera. Moreover, the reverberations of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical “The Cat” and rock opera “Jesus Christ – Super Star” may be felt in the original songs of authors.

The plot of the opera differs from the work of G.Bizet written according to a short story of Prosper Merimee only by the time of action, the place and biographies of heroes. The fatal singer Carmen, Jose in love with her, the charming Escamillo are characters, whose love triangle ends by death in Latin America (Cuba) of the 20th century instead of Spain of the 19th century. Even though there is not much originality in this work, its live performance left a great impression.

The professional team turned “Carmen Cubana” into an unforgettable event. The hottest emotions emanating from the performers right from the first minute hypnotised and locked attention up till the end.

The concert performance promised by the organisers could be called a stage performance. Even though all decorations and corps de ballet did not fit on the stage of VMU, and the movement freedom of the choir was imprisoned in the back of the stage, there were many things to admire. Such dynamics prevailed even in the foreground that one had to have really good eyes to catch everything.

The performer of Carmen role Lana Gordon from the USA is known to Pažaislis Festival audience from the last year – the musical by Leonard Bernstein “West Side Story”. The owner of extremely powerful voice demonstrated excellent mastery of a vocalist and actress as well as a dancer. It was interesting to listen how the performer of pop and jazz music sang the famous “Habanera” of G.Bizet, which was written for an opera soloist in the original.

True, the lack of overtones could be sensed when L.Gordon sang long notes. Still, we should not mix the specifics of opera and pop style performance. The occasionally harsh timbre of the singer sounded extremely soft in lyrical scenes showing the knowledge and the highest level of professionalism of L.Gordon.

L.Gordon’s partners – Alex Melcher (Germany) in the role of Jose and Ruben Heerenveen (Netherlands) in the role of Escamillo also proved to be real professionals. Owners of wonderful voices rendered all character features of their personages, and no one could remain indifferent to their talent.

The singers were assisted by Latin American dance masters – Kenia Gonzales (Cuba) and Wanderson Wanderley (Brazil). The audience was stoned by their tricks. Nobody even took a thought that there were more dancers in the stage version of this opera. In addition to pirouettes and almost acrobatic tricks, they accompanied the singers.

Not only the main soloists and the audience raved during the concert. Kaunas State Choir (artistic director and chief conductor Petras Bingelis), Kaunas Symphony Orchestra (chief conductor Modestas Pitrėnas) joined the general spree during the minutes free from singing and playing: they applauded, moved according to the dance rhythm and added heat to the general atmosphere in this way. The co-author of the opera, conductor and guitar player M.Gellner did not lag behind – he danced the salsa rhythm with the baton in his hand.

The premiere of “Carmen Cubana” organised by Pažaislis Festival presented a chance to see the highest professionalism of performers in Lithuania as well as their personal qualities which every artist should have. Devotion, sincerity, joy and openness are the values which Lithuanian performers lack sometimes. These are values more precious than money on the stage.

At the end of the concert, when the stage and the hall reached a hardly bearable temperature on the emotional and physical scale – the hall of VMU operates without conditioners up till now – the audience did not want to let the performers off the stage. They had to repeat three music acts and to thank the audience by the learned Lithuanian word “Ačiū” (Thank you).

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