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.
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]
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