Lyric Opera’s 2005-6 season is closing as it began, with a production of Bizet’s “Carmen,” and despite not having legendary and sizzling mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves in the title role—unquestionably a loss—overall this is a stronger and more effective telling of the familiar story of fatal gypsy love than the seemingly hastily put together fall production. One of the biggest problems last fall was that conductor Sir Andrew Davis’ tempos were often dragging and tricky rhythms were sometimes eluding him. Davis has never been a quick study, and that was his first-ever “Carmen,” a piece he is much more at home with now and he is able to create some truly poetic orchestral moments with the piece. Neil Shicoff’s Don José was a wispy match for Graves vocally and dramatically, but this time around Italian tenor Vincenzo La Scola has a dark Mediterranean sound that is the real deal and which blends well with Hungarian mezzo-soprano Viktoria Vizin’s impressive Lyric debut in the title role. You can actually believe that these two are in love. Another improvement vocally and dramatically over the fall production is Mark S. Doss as bullfighter Escamillo, who really relishes the role with considerable bravura and though Patricia Racette’s Micaëla gives a usually one-dimensional character some true pathos, her quivering tight vibrato remained on annoying autopilot all through the performance. With so many opera lovers having seen “Carmen” in its sold-out fall incarnation, ticket availability should be more accessible for these spring dates. (Dennis Polkow)
Lyric Opera, Wacker Drive (at Madison), (312)332-2244. Through March 25.