Georges BIZET(1838 - 1875) Carmen - opera in 4 acts (1875)
Carmen - Elina Garanča (mezzo); Don José - Roberto
Alagna (tenor); Micaëla - Barbara Frittoli (soprano); Escamillo
- Teddy Tahu Rhodes (bass-baritone); Frasquita - Elizabeth Caballero
(soprano); Mercédès - Sandra Piques Eddy (mezzo);
Moralès - Trevor Scheunemann (baritone); Zuniga - Keith
Miller (bass); Le Dancaïre - Earle Patriarco (baritone);
Le Remendado - Keith Jameson (tenor)
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Chorus and Ballet/Yannick Nézet-Séguin
rec. live, Metropolitan Opera, New York, 16 January 2010
Picture format: 1080i60 HD 16:9. All regions.
NTSC / Colour / 16:9 (Filmed in High Definition); Sound formats:
PCM Stereo DTS HD Master Audio 5.1
Subtitles, French (original language), English, German, Spanish.
Menu language English
Extras: Backstage at the Met with Elina Garanča, Roberto Alagna
and others. Hosted by Renée Fleming DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 073 4799
[167:00 + 9:00]
Bizet died at the early age of thirty-six. This was shortly
after the premiere of Carmen at the Opéra Comique
at which the work was coolly received. The audience finding
the story of the eponymous anti-hero somewhat immoral. That
Puritanism, considering the goings-on in Paris society during
the recently demised Second Empire, smells of hypocrisy. The
Opéra Comique presented works with spoken dialogue and
it was in this form that the opera was premiered. Whilst in
recent years some productions have gone back to this original
form the international success and popularity of Carmen
dates from its 1875 Vienna production and involves the sung
recitatives that the composer’s friend, Ernest Guiraud,
added after the Bizet’s death in place of the spoken dialogue.
Spoken French dialogue can present difficulties to a multi-national
cast and, as here, the practice in recorded performance has
often been to utilise the Guiraud sung recitatives with a few
interjections of spoken dialogue.
My colleague reviewing the DVD of this performance, and shortly
after having seen it live, found much to praise (see review).
This production by Richard Eyre, premiered on New Year’s
Eve 2010, and transmitted to cinemas worldwide just over two
weeks later, and with a significant cast change, replaced the
1996 Zeffirelli spectacular at the Met. I recently reviewed
his version from Vienna conducted by Carlos Kleiber (see review)
and noted that he so cluttered the stage with bodies and action
that certain of the stage instructions could not be carried
out. The updating to Spain in the 1930s means that not all the
stage instructions are carried out here. Why Don José
ties Carmen’s hands with rope, when she is already handcuffed
escapes me. She then pushes over Zuniga rather than José
to escape, an illogical producer idiosyncrasy. Such are the
quirks of modern producers as is the absence of any spectators
during the final confrontation between Carmen and Don José.
There are compensations such as the final tableau of the view
of Escamillo, standing with sword, over a dead bull and the
whole in vivid red light.
Generally the large representational set by Rob Howell, together
with the rotating Met stage, allows the story to unfold in a
comprehensible manner. The use of blue lighting for the darker
locations has something of a down side with the likes of Zuniga’s
shaven head reflecting the colour! The presence of dancers in
the entr’actes is largely meaningless. However, ultimately
a performance of Carmen depends, above all and more importantly
than in many operas, on the singers and particularly on the
title role. In this respect, the Met landed lucky with the withdrawal
of the soprano Angela Gheorghiu and her replacement by the mezzo
Elina Garanča; Bizet’s music is far better sung by
a mezzo. Not only does Ms Garanča sing with wonderful enunciation,
but also with meaning and a wide variety of tonal colour. In
her singing and acting she exudes Carmen’s sexuality whilst
not over-egging it with hip swinging and flaunting.
Carmen’s lover, the enchanted Don José slowly disintegrates
over the four acts as a consequence of his infatuation with
Carmen. Francophone Roberto Alagna does less well vocally in
this role. The sweet-voiced and mellifluous lyric tenor who
first hit the headlines at Covent Garden nearly twenty years
ago, is now a rather coarse semi-spinto. Too many spinto roles
mean his tone has become grainy and his effort at a softly sung
B-flat at the end of the Flower Song is not easy on the
ear (CH.30). Micaëla, the girl his mother wants José
to marry, is sung by a mature-looking Barbara Frittoli. In act
one she manages the sung and acted interactions with the troop
of soldiers well. However, in the long duet with José
as he asks her to tell him of his mother, her large voice has
difficulty in managing an elegant legato (CH.10). This is even
more evident in her act three aria (CH.42) when her voice also
shows signs of harshness at the top.
Even without considering that Teddy Tahu Rhodes had only a few
hours notice that he was to make his Met. debut that afternoon
as Escamillo, his is a good achievement. Tall and physically
imposing his voice is strong and he manages the demanding tessitura
well. He just needs a little more variety of colour and nuance
whilst his performance here should lead to other opera house
intendants calling. Keith Miller's sung and acted portrayal
of lieutenant Zuniga portends his capacity for greater challenges.
I have heard and seen better portrayals of the gypsy girls Frasquita
and Mercédès, particularly in a leading house.
The smugglers added colour in their acting and singing.
Along with Elina Garanča, the big plus of the performance
is found in Yannick Nézet-Séguin. His idiomatic
conducting has verve, vitality and sensitivity. Jimmy Levine
is not missed in this performance.
The interval interviews and extras are bland rather than penetrating.
The HD picture is excellent despite the blue lighting effects
that were, perhaps, less evident in the theatre. All in all,
and despite a flawed Micaëla, I still prefer the Royal
Opera House performance with Jonas Kaufmann easily surpassing
Alagna here and Anna Caterina Antonacci exuding sexuality even
beyond Garanča’s achievement. Pappano is every bit
as idiomatic as Nézet-Séguin and with perhaps
a bit more bite in the dramatic dénouement (Decca DVD
Robert J Farr
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