Munich’s Well-Paced Carmen Makes Strong Impression

GermanyGermany   Georges Bizet, Carmen: Soloists, Bayerisches Staatsorchester, Chor und Kinderchor der Bayerischen Staatsoper, Opernballett der Bayerischen Staatsoper, Statisterie und Kinderstatisterie der Bayerischen Staatsoper, Nationaltheater, Munich, 3.4.2014 (MC)

Carmen, Bavarian State Opera production 2007, photo Wilfried Hösl
Carmen, Bavarian State Opera production 2007, photo Wilfried Hösl

 Fritz Oeser’s 1964 critical edition of Bizet’s score. Sung in French with German surtitles


Carmen: Anita Rachvelishvili (mezzo-soprano)
Micaela: Olga Mykytenko (soprano)
Frasquita: Iulia Maria Dan (soprano)
Mercédès: Yulia Sokolik (soprano)
Zuniga: Tareq Nazmi (bass)
Moralès: Andrea Borghini (baritone)
Don José: Marcello Giordani (tenor)
Escamillo: Kyle Ketelsen (bass-baritone)
Dancairo: Alexander Kaimbacher (tenor)
Remendado: Dean Power (tenor)
Lillas Pastia: Manfred Ultsch


Music Direction: Carlo Montanaro
After a Production by Director: Lina Wertmüller
Set and Costumes: Enrico Job
Lighting: Franco Marri
Chorus direction: Stellario Fagone

The production of Strauss’s Salome the previous evening at Munich’s National Theatre was a great disappointment that left me wondering what might have been. I had no such problems with tonight’s production of Bizet’s Carmen, a revival of Lina Wertmüller’s much admired period staging, which was a real hit from the first note to the last. With such an excellent libretto and containing music where one hit follows another it’s hard to believe today that at its 1875 première at the Opéra-Comique, Paris the four act opera was a failure. Poignantly Bizet died three months later without any conception that Carmen would achieve enduring worldwide fame.

Immediately the curtain opened the National Theatre audience was transported back to nineteenth-century Seville. This now well established set with the mighty iron gates of the distant cigarette factory at daybreak was dominated by the gradually brightening pale orange sky. This was a satisfyingly fast moving scenario compelling for the eye as well as the ear without ever a suggestion of a whiff of tedium.

Living up to her starring role Georgian mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili made a suitably flirtatious Carmen, who one sensed was highly experienced with men, without overplaying the siren role. Looking very much the gypsy temptress in her Act I Habanera, Rachvelishvili was confident and vocally focused displaying excellent projection with an attractive rather than beautiful tone. Not as overtly sexy, showing as much flesh or behaving as badly as Anna Caterina Antonacci in Francesca Zambello’s 2006 Royal Opera House production, Rachvelishvili was in sultry mood and performed securely. Suitably seductive in Seguidilla: Près des ramparts de Séville from Act I the confident Rachvelishvili seemed to own the stage.

Olga Mykytenko as a delightful Micaëla was decked out like a city girl in a blue two piece fitted jacket and long full skirt carrying a brown bag, and Marcello Giordani, a more mature Don José the dragoon corporal, wore a plain uniform. Their Act I duet Parle-moi de ma mère! was tenderly sung and Mykytenko’s sweet, bright voice with its striking tone projected well through the house. Pleasingly Giordani’s attractive voice also carried well and held up satisfactorily under pressure.

From Act II the famous ‘Flower SongLa fleur que tu m’avais jetée must be a tenor’s dream and red flower in hand tenor Giordani didn’t disappoint. Although the scene involved a near dizzying amount of perambulation between the pair, fixed in my memory is the sexual tension created when Don José knelt and held Carmen tightly. It was impressive how Giordani’s voice increased in weight splendidly to dramatic effect.

It was a thrilling moment when the handsome toreador Escamillo, played by bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen, dressed in a red chaquetilla, burst onto the scene in Act II with such great grandiosity. Escamillo’s famous Toreador Song, Votre toast je peux vous le rendre, was compellingly sung by Ketelsen with all the necessary confidence that bordered on arrogance completely capturing the essence of the famous toreador. During the Toreador Song Escamillo’s smouldering sex appeal had the señoritas frantically fanning themselves to cool their ardour.

Especially affecting was the tragic final scene which was compellingly acted out. Whilst Escamillo is in the bullring to the roar of his adoring supporters the spurned Don José rapes Carmen and then madly stabs her fatally to the sound of the crowd’s Toreador Song from the bullring. Realising what he has done Don José embraces Carmen as she lies dead on the floor.

Enrico Job’s work on the set and costumes was impressive on the eye. The uniforms of the soldiers of the dragoons were pretty drab looking which I suppose they would have been in reality yet they served to contrast starkly with the bright colours of the señoritas dresses. The lighting by Franco Marri worked to perfection and together with the scenery and costumes served to create a simple yet effective set that smouldered with warm colour. In act III set on the mountainside the smugglers’ camp amongst the rocks was remarkably effective – so much so that the temperature seemed to drop a few degrees.

The strong and enthusiastic supporting cast and the well paced playing from the impressive orchestra under conductor Carlo Montanaro added significantly to the success of this colourful and satisfying production.

Michael Cookson

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