Sliced but Sizzling Carmen in Stockholm

12/10/2011

  Georges Bizet Carmen:  Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera, Children from Adolf Fredrik’s Music Classes, Lionel Bringuier (director), Royal Swedish Opera, Stockholm, 24.9.2011 (GF)

Production:

Director: Vincent Boussard
Sets: Vincent Lemaire
Costumes: Zana Bosnjak
Lighting design: Hans-Åke Sjöquist

Cast:

Carmen – Katarina Dalayman
Don José – Mikael Weinius
Escamillo – David Bizic
Micaëla – Emma Vetter
Zuniga –Michael Schmiedberger
Morales – Pär Nilsén
Dancaire – Anton Eriksson
Remendado –Niklas Björling-Rygert
Frasquita – Vivianne Holmberg
Mercédès – Katarina Giotas

Just home from Helsinki and the revival of their four-year-old Carmen, I had to rush down to Stockholm for the Royal Opera’s stab at the same work. There had been rumours of a quite new approach from director Vincent Boussard. The sets were not much to write home about: a gigantic cardboard box with doors and window served as the open space for the guards. In act II, it became not Lillas Pastia’s inn but rather a rehearsal room for the three gypsies. I suppose that Boussard simply wanted to get rid of Lillas Pastia, also by cutting almost all the spoken dialogue and Guiraud’s recitatives, which he openly declared were substandard. The effect of all this was a kind of compact Carmen with many loose ends, and, like the Finnish production Stockholm, also chopped up into short sequences with black curtains in between. Again, this is reminiscent of movie technique. I can imagine that those coming to see Carmen for the first time will feel a bit disoriented.

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G.Bizet, Carmen,
C.Abbado, / LSO
P.Domingo, I.Cotrubas, S.Milnes et al.
DG

Boussard has also changed the characters. This Carmen is not a seducer, though she radiates some kind of sexuality but the Habanera, her ‘credo’, is sung from a window high above the crowd – and she turns her back to the people. Micaëla is not the fair, innocent girl from the countryside but a tough bride in high-heeled boots and a haughty approach. She is tall, too, much taller than Carmen and thus a serious rival. Emma Vetter, like Karneus, is also a Wagner soprano with Senta and Sieglinde in her repertoire and therefore, like Kirsi Tiihonen in the previous Carmen production in Helsinki, a real challenge to the title role. Frasquita and Mercedes are already on their way down in society: Frasquita – a hilarious performance by Vivianne Holmberg – is high on drugs from beginning to end and Mercedes has taken to booze. The most chiselled portrait of all is Escamillo. He owns the stage whenever he is present. A superb skirt-chaser!

Michael Weinius, who is rapidly taking on the heroic roles – he will be Lohengrin next spring – has retained his lyrical qualities as well and sings with great beauty, especially in the duet with Micaëla in act I. His Flower Song is magical and when he lets go in the final duet he owns the stage. But actually, not quite! Katarina Dalayman, though a soprano and not a mezzo, has all the power and lyricism required and here are two dully-fledged dramatic singers with countless nuances to offer. István Kovácsházi in Helsinki was a truly memorable Don José; now I have heard two superb singers in the role within a week. David Bizic, who sang the High Priest in Samson et Dalila a few years ago, was possibly the best Escamillo I have ever seen, and though I would have preferred a more lyric Micaëla than Emma Vetter, she fit the concept well. The young French conductor Lionel Bringuier, at a mere 25, was on his toes throughout the performance and contributed to a heated evening. I am not sure I would like my Carmen this way every time, but it was a refreshing, thought-through performance. Full marks!

Göran Forsling

 

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