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Georges BIZET (1838-1875)
Christine Rice (Carmen)
Bryan Hymel (Don José)
Aris Argiris (Escamillo)
Maija Kovalevska (Micaëla)
Royal Opera Chorus & Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Constantinos Carydis (conductor)
Francesca Zambello (stage director)
Extra features: Carmen the opera and a Cast Gallery
Subtitles: EN/DE/FR/JAP/KO
Sound format: 2.0LPCM + 5.1(5.0) DTS
rec. live, Royal Opera House, London, June 2011

This, Julian Napier’s cinematic film (originally shot in 3D), captures The Royal Opera’s 2011 production of Bizet’s Carmen. On the standard DVD copy that I am reviewing, the picture is mastered in 2D.

Even though this is billed as a cinematic film, all the actions take place on stage at The Royal Opera, Covent Garden. Francesca Zambello’s production is quite traditional, with ranks of soldiers, crowds of peasants, gypsies and bullfighters – as well as a horse, a donkey and even some chickens. The filming is somewhat closer than that of an average live opera production. The sets are somewhat dark but conventional. In the first act, two female characters are seen bathing with their backs facing the audience, and the cigarette factory girls show a fair bit of cleavage as well as with legs wide-spread, but otherwise there is no frontal nudity in this film.

American tenor Bryan Hymel as Don Jose has a good physique and good looks, and acts passionately, but his voice is not beautiful and sounds rather congested. Christine Rice is a seductive Carmen, sings and acts well. Aris Argiris as Escamillo and Maija Kovalevska as Micaëla are also more than decent. However, the recorded balance does not favour the lead singers, and I have trouble hearing them over the ensemble. The spoken dialogues are almost inaudible, while at the same time the chorus is balanced very forward. I wonder why, if the gunshots and sound of fist fights can be so audible, why the lead singer’s volume couldn’t be turned up as well.

The four acts are given without a break, and the entr’acte to Acts 2, 3 and 4 are all cut from this production. It is regrettable that the director Francesca Zambello could not include them in her conception of the production, because these constitute some of the best music in the opera. Portions of the Act 3 and 4 entr’acte’s are used as background music to the end credit.

The booklet is in English, French and German. The essay titled “Why Carmen has all the best tunes” by Richard Langham Smith gives valuable insights into the provenance of the various tunes from the opera. A synopsis rather than a full text is given. The bonus features are short and do not really provide much value.
Given the immense popularity of Carmen, it is no surprise that there have been many filmed versions of the opera. At or near the top of the list are Francesco Rosi’s film with Julia Migenes and Placido Domingo, shot entirely on location in Andalusia Spain; James Levine with Agnes Baltsa and Jose Carreras at the Met; Herbert von Karajan’s version with Grace Bumbry and Jon Vickers from the 60’s; and a rather recent Met production with Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Elīna Garanča and Roberto Alagna. All of these sets feature a better-sung Don Jose. Coupled with the problems with cuts and with recorded balance, I cannot recommend this new release over the top choices currently in the catalogue.

Wai Kit Leung



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