"Sometimes opera performances are dominated by a single singer. That was the case Friday evening when Mill City Summer Opera opened its new staging of Bizet's "Carmen" at Mill City Museum in Minneapolis. Mezzo-soprano Audrey Babcock has sung the part of Carmen more than 150 times. The experience showed in her nuanced, smoldering portrayal of the fiery gypsy stalked by an obsessive ex-lover. Whether unzipping an orange suggestively or running a practiced foot along an army lieutenant's groin, Babcock's Carmen simmered with sensuality. But her proud, principled embrace of the bohemian lifestyle — and her refusal to be trammeled by the men in her life — lent ballast to the sex kitten manipulations. Seductive? Yes, but Babcock was a thinking Carmen, too, a woman who knew her worth and had no intention of letting it be diminished. Vocally Babcock had the part nailed, too. Light and playful in numbers such as the Act 1 set-piece "Habanera," her voice expanded thrillingly in the later confrontations with Don José, while never losing a satisfying bloom and plenitude. . . For Babcock's Carmen, though, it was worth persisting. She owned the character and left provocative questions about female sexuality, and the male urge to control it, quivering in the night air at the opera's gory conclusion"
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