Georges BIZET (1838-1875) Carmen - opera in 4 acts (1875) [146:53]
Libretto written by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy
Carmen: Christine Rice (mezzo-soprano)
Don José: Bryan Hymel (tenor)
Escamillo: Aris Argiris (baritone)
Micaëla: Maija Kovaļevska (soprano)
Frasquita: Elena Xanthoudakis (soprano)
Mercédès: Paula Murrihy (mezzo-soprano)
Children of the Trinity Boys' Choir, Tiffin Girls’ Choir
Choir masters David Swinson, Simon Ferris
Royal Opera House Chorus
Chorus direction: Renato Balsadonna
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House/Constantinos Carydis
Director: Francesca Zambello
Picture Format: 1080p - 1 x BD50 - Filmed in High Definition
a) LPCM Stereo 2.0ch, 48kHz/16bit
b) DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1ch, 48kHz
Sung in French with on screen subtitles available in English, French, German, Japanese, Korean OPUS ARTE OABD7188D Blu-Ray [149:45]
Opus Arte has released a performance of Bizet’s
Carmen from 2010 at the Royal Opera House (ROH) a revival of
the much admired period staging from Francesca Zambello and her collaborator
stage designer Tanya McCallin. Here we have Julian Napier’s cinematic
film of the revival of Carmen originally shot in 3D over two
sessions and now remastered in high definition 2D on Blu-ray and DVD.
Being a cinematic film clearly the shots of the production are of an
improved quality but Napier and producer Phil Streather ensure that
it’s not overproduced without any outside filming. It has all
the feel of a typical live opera performance and I can’t fault
the results at all.
With an excellent libretto and containing music where one smash hit
tune follows another, Carmen has an enduring popularity. It
has been performed by ROH alone over 500 times. It’s hard to believe
today that at its 1875 première at the Opéra-Comique, Paris the four
act opera, given with spoken dialogue, was actually a failure. Poignantly
Bizet died three months later without any conception that Carmen
would achieve worldwide fame.
No opening of Carmen I have seen has been able match the Lina
Wertmüller production at the Bayerischen Staatsoper that I attended
in 2014. Immediately the curtain opened the National Theatre, Munich
audience was transported back to
19th century Séville. Dominating the scene were the mighty iron gates
of the distant cigarette factory at daybreak with a gradually brightening
pale orange sky.
At this ROH production revival director Duncan MacFarland manages a
satisfyingly brisk moving scenario compelling for the eye as well as
the ear without ever a suggestion or a whiff of tedium. After the overture
curtain up is different to the traditional opening as we see alone on
stage the handcuffed Don José convicted of murdering Carmen kneeling
in his prison cell as the hangman in black leather hood arrives for
him. After this prelude we see the now well established period set of
Séville, with walls the colour of sun-burnt red clay, centering on a
square complete with long water trough and orange tree. Locals with
children are milling about mingling with women workers from the cigarette
factory and a few soldiers too. There is even a donkey being led across
the stage; a presence which seems compulsory these days.
Probably the finest soprano I have seen in the role of Carmen was Anna
Caterina Antonacci in Francesca Zambello’s 2007 ROH production.
A fireball of gypsy passion Antonacci knocks the socks off other competitors
and seems to own the stage. Certainly my first choice Carmen,
Zambello’s production with Anna Caterina Antonacci and Jonas Kaufmann
as Don José is available on Decca Blu-ray. Here Manchester born Christine
Rice can’t draw on any Latin sensibilities like Antonacci yet
does make a suitably flirtatious Carmen, a free spirited, beautiful
yet dangerous siren. Looking very much the gypsy temptress in her act
1 Habanera, Rice is assured and vocally focused displaying
excellent projection with an attractive tone. Suitably seductive in
the Seguidilla: Près des ramparts de Séville also
from act 1 Rice in sultry mood performs so well.
From Act II the famous ‘Flower Song’ La fleur que tu
m’avais jetée must be a tenor’s dream and with red
flower (a very small one actually) in hand American tenor Hymel as the
dragoon corporal doesn’t disappoint. Although the scene involves
a near dizzying amount of perambulation between the pair, what sticks
in the consciousness is the degree of sexual tension when Don José kneels
and holds Carmen tightly. Impressive is how Hymel’s voice increases
in weight to splendid effect, however, I have a grumble concerning the
tenor’s diction that requires closer attention.
Latvian soprano Maija Kovaļevska makes a delightful if naive Micaëla
decked out like a country girl with pigtails wearing a plain, long grey-blue
dress. Hymel as the corporal is kitted out in blue uniform with yellow
stripes on the trousers. Their act I duet Parle-moi de ma mère!
is tenderly sung and Kovaļevska, sounding anything but Spanish,
displays a firm striking tone that projects well through the house.
Gratifyingly Hymel’s agreeable voice also carries well, holding
up satisfactorily under pressure.
It is a rousing moment when the handsome bullfighter Escamillo, played
by baritone Aris Argiris dressed in a black and red trimmed toreador’s
outfit, makes his grandiose entrance on a black horse. Escamillo’s
famous Toreador Song, Votre toast je peux vous le rendre is
rendered slightly disappointingly by Argiris. Nevertheless he radiates
the necessary confidence that captures the essence of the famous toreador.
Argiris’ smouldering sex appeal has the señoritas frantically
fanning themselves to cool their ardour.
Affecting is the tragic final scene which is compellingly acted out.
Whilst Escamillo is in the bullring entertaining his adoring supporters
spurned Don José madly stabs Carmen fatally to the sound of the crowd’s
Toreador Song. Realising what he has done Don José holds the lifeless
Carmen on the floor.
Set and costumes, which seem virtually the same as Tanya McCallin’s
work on Zambello’s original 2007 production, are impressive on
the eye. There are relatively few dragoon soldiers and they wear rather
drab looking uniforms which in reality serve to contrast starkly with
the ravishingly bright colours of the dresses of the señoritas, the
flamenco dancers and picadors. Like many contemporary productions the
trend seems to be to pack the stage with children for the chorus of
urchins and this is no exception. The lighting by Paule Constable works
to perfection and together with the scenery and costumes serves to create
a simple yet effective set smouldering with warm colour. Act 3, set
in the smugglers’ camp on the mountainside is remarkably effective
– so much so that the temperature seems to drop a few degrees.
Seen mainly at Lillas Pastia’s Inn, the Spanish dancing, so often
a let-down, is top drawer owing to the small troupe of professional
dancers. The four or five minutes of ‘extra features’ containing
a cast list and some back-stage footage doesn’t amount to much
and I have come to expect much more background information and interviews.
In the accompanying booklet there is both a helpful essay ‘Why
Carmen has all the best tunes’ by Richard Langham Smith and
a synopsis. The stereo and surround audio options sound striking on
my HD television.
Excellent work from the well prepared chorus together with well paced,
stirring playing from Orchestra of the Royal Opera House under the responsive
control of conductor Constantinos Carydis.
Michael Cookson Other contributors
Zuniga: Nicolas Courjal (bass)
Moralès: Dawid Kimberg (baritone)
Le Dancaire: Adrian Clarke (baritone)
Le Remendado: Harry Nichol (tenor) Lillas Pastia: Caroline Lena Olsson
Guide: Anthony De Baeck
Revival director: Duncan MacFarland
Set and Costumes: Tanya McCallin
Lighting: Paule Constable
Choreography: Arthur Pita
Fight direction: Mike Loades
Revival fight director: Natalie Dakin
Film direction: Julian Napier
Film producer: Phil Streather
Music producer: David Groves
Cast Gallery [2:34]
Carmen the opera [1:21]