Bizet: Carmen, Soloists, Chorus and Children’s Chorus of Opernhaus Zürich, Philharmonia Zürich,Vasily Petrenko (conductor), Opernhaus Zürich, 3.07.14 (RP)
Carmen: Kate Aldrich
Micaëla: Rachel Harnisch
Mercédès: Irène Friedli
Frasquita: Sen Guo
Don José: Brandon Jovanovich
Escamillo: Alexander Vinogradov
Le Remendado: Roberto Ortiz
Dancaïro: Alex Lawrence
Moralès: Yuriy Tsiple
Zuniga: Anatoli Sivko
Director: Matthias Hartmann
Stage design: Volker Hintermeier
Costumes: Su Bühler
Lighting: Martin Gebhardt
Chorus master: Ernst Raffelsberger
Choreography: Teresa Rotemberg
It is not your usual Carmen when Micaëla’s third-act aria gets more applause than the title character’s hit tunes that preceded it. Such was the case, however, at this performance of Carmen at the Zurich Opera House. Rachel Harnisch may be Swiss and a local favorite, but that is not what drew the applause. Harnisch created a sympathetic, three-dimensional character that tugged at your heart strings. You cared about her. And she sang beautifully too.
Then there was Brian Jovanovich’s Don José. Over the span of four acts, he evolved from a tall, geeky, sexually inexperienced social misfit with thick glasses (his fellow soldiers tormented him with the girlie magazine that he clumsily dropped from a pile of mail) to a shattered, hulking, unhinged man fatally obsessed with Carmen. That same evolution was achieved vocally. As Don José mentally and physically deteriorated, Jovanovich’s singing became ferocious, both in volume and intensity. Nonetheless, there was an innate decency to Jovanovich’s Don José that Micaëla seeks to save and Carmen will ultimately destroy, no matter what the price.
It is hard to pinpoint just what was missing in Kate Aldrich’s Carmen. She is a strikingly attractive woman and, vocally, the role holds no challenges for her. She also commands your attention on stage. But this Carmen was not much concerned about her fate, so consequently it was hard to care about her. She was brazen and defiant, but that’s about it. This may perhaps be what director Matthias Hartmann wanted, as Sen Guo’s Frasquita and Irène Friedli’s Mercédès were pretty much cut from the same cloth. Aldrich was at her best in the final two acts when she had to square off with two dangerous men, but she never come close to equaling them.
The performance did not really catch fire until Escamillo’s entrance in Act II. The chorus, singing directly to the audience, set the stage. Their excitement and anticipation were contagious. Alexander Vinogradov entered singing a rousing Toreador Song, and he reveled in the frenzy. He’s a real stage animal, with dark good looks and a voice to match. Escamillo may not be the most complex character in opera, but Vinogradov embodied a man who skirts death for a living and revels in that arena. He knows that Carmen discards her lovers every six months, but that suits this Escamillo just fine: he might not be around in one month, let alone seven.
From my seat, I had a full view of conductor Vasily Petrenko and the orchestra. My companion said that she would follow him anywhere, and the orchestra and chorus, both adults and children, seemed to be of the same mind. His enthusiasm was infectious. The orchestra played splendidly, and the choral singing was full of energy. The famous Quintet in Act III was surprisingly light and jaunty but just a bit sinister. Petrenko made all that happen, and it was a joy to watch.
The set was simple – a round, raked disc with one stage element per act. Of these, the enormous full moon of Act III and the lone olive tree of the final act were the most effective. The disc telescoped the action into a small stark space. The costumes were more or less modern dress. A set and costumes that focus the audience’s attention on the drama are rare indeed these days. Bravo Zurich!