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Bizet,  Carmen : Orquesta Sinfónica de Euskadi, Coral Andra Mari, Escolanía Easo, Conductor: Pablo González, Auditorio Kursaal de San Sebastián. 16. 8.2008. (JMI)

Production from Capitole de Toulouse
Director: Nicolas Joel
Sets: Ezio Frigerio
Costumes: Franca Squarciapino
Lighting: Vicio Cheli


Carmen: Nancy Fabiola Herrera, mezzo
Don José: Germán Villar, tenor
Micaela: Ainhoa Garmendia, soprano
Escamillo: Ángel Ódena, baritone
Zúñiga: Stefano Palatchi, bass
Remendado: Jon Plazaola, tenor
Dancaïre: Manel Esteve, baritone
Mercedes: Itxaro Mentxaka, soprano
Frasquita: Rocío Martínez, soprano
Morales: Rubén Ramada, baritone

La Quincena Musical Donostiarra (San Sebastian Musical Fortnight), the doyen of the Spanish Summer Festivals, offers one opera on stage every year  and at least one more in concert version, as well as a varied and outstanding series of other concerts. Considering the lack of opera in the city during the year, it is completely reasonable for the Festival to decide to present operas from the main repertoire and there is no doubt that Carmen, along with Aida and La Bohème, is one of the operas able to fill an opera house. The problem with this one though was that  the difficulty of meeting the expectations of  real aficionados, particularly in vocal terms.

This production came from Toulouse’s Capitole, where it was premiered in 1997 and was again revived  in January  2007 as a vehicle for the debut of Marcelo Alvarez as Don José.  The production delivers what one expects from the team of Frigerio, Squarciapino and Cheli, although it cannot be considered as one their best. The sets don’t have very much interest, with the first act at a double level and Lilas Pastia's tavern looking more like a Seville square by night. Things were better for the last act, but in general there was a feeling of darkness throughout, which is not what one  expects of sunny Seville. Of Mr. Joel's own contribution, there is very little to say, since his stage direction was limited with little attention paid to the singers.

The Asturian Pablo González was in charge of the musical direction.  This young conductor is one of the great hopes in Spain. He is 33 years old, but he had to halt his career for five years due to an uncommon illness. This was his most important operatic challenge to date and I think that he  fulfilled all expectations.

There are two things to be  emphasized about his interpretation. In the first place there was his very careful direction, free of any excessive orchestral volume and much more faithful to the original score than the style to which we are used nowadays. Secondly, there is the way in which he helped the singers, who were never overwhelmed by the orchestra, even though this might have been natural, considering the voices gathered on stage and Mr. Gonzalez' lack of experience. Tempos were generally slow, particularly in the Habañera, the Seguidilla and the second act, although the quintet was actually rather too fast. But this was an interesting performance from a promising conductor. The orchestra was acceptable, though not specially exceptional.

Nancy Fabiola Herrera has become a familiar Carmen on the main opera stage, which shows the lack of great Carmens performing today. She is a good interpreter, credible and even convincing, although sadly she does not raise much enthusiasm. In vocal terms she is not really outstanding, offering a voice with neither excessive volume nor quality. Her phrasing was rather shortened in the Cards aria and her high register lacks brilliance. Among the present panorama of singers for this role however, she is definitely acceptable.

The Don José from Valencian Germán Villar, replacing the announced Massimo Giordano, was also problematic, without enough experience to meet the  role's demands. He simply does not have the voice required for Don José and  in addition he was not helped much by the lack of direction from Mr. Joel. Villar's voice is too light, although his timbre is pleasant and if he keeps himself inside his vocal limits, he could certainly have a future.

Ainhoa Garmendia was Micaela. She is a good singer andhad the audience on her side of course, but perhaps Micaela is not for her. Ms Garmendia is a light soprano and Micaela requires a stronger vocal centre. She sang with good taste but showed many problems with the higher notes, finishing her big aria by  bordering on a shout. A light soprano without top notes seems unlikely to have a bright future.

Angel Ódena had the difficult task of  singing Escamillo and, although there was no announcement to this effect, I had the impression he was not feeling at his best. He was clearly below par, and far from his form in the same role in Toulouse two years ago.

Among the secondary roles I should mention the Jon Plazaola's Remendado, probably the best comprimario in Spain. Manel Esteve as Dancaïre and Itxaro Mentxaka as Mercedes both made a good impression too but Rocío Martinez was too light for Frasquita, while Stefano Palatchi performed only competently as Zúñiga. Rubén Ramada had many pitch problems as Morales.

The house was sold out for the three performances and  the audience applauded without any great enthusiasm, giving the best reception to Carmen and Micaela.

José M Irurzun

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