United States Bizet, Carmen: The Metropolitan Opera, Pablo Heras-Casado (conductor), Transmitted live to Duke of York Cinema, Brighton, 01.11.2014. (RB)
Maralès: John Moore
Micaëla: Anita Hartig
Don José: Aleksandrs Antonenko
Zuniga: Keith Miller
Carmen: Anita Rachvelishvili
Frasquita: Kiri Deonarine
Mercédès: Jennifer Johnson Cano
Escamillo: Ildar Abdrazakov
Le Duncaire: Malcolm Mackenzie
Le Remendado: Eduardo Valdes
Solo Dancers: Maria Kowroski, Martin Harvey
Production: Richard Eyre
Set & Costume Designer: Rob Howell
Lighting Designer: Peter Mumford
Choreographer: Christopher Wheeldon
Live in HD Director: Matthew Diamond
Live in HD Host: Joyce DiDonato
I have always found it remarkable that the Metropolitan Opera have been able to broadcast so many live productions to so many countries without any kind of technical hitch. This production of Carmen was the exception to the rule as the transmission was beset by technical problems at the start of the opera. The overture went off without a hitch but when the singing started there were no subtitles. There were numerous attempts by the technical people at the cinema to turn the subtitles on and in the end they had to halt the transmission on a couple of occasions in order to get the subtitles to work. Fortunately, the technical problems were finally resolved just before Carmen started to sing her famous habanera but it meant that we missed much of the initial scene setting in the opera.
Notwithstanding the technical problems I very much enjoyed this production of Carmen. Richard Eyre has once again done a very good job integrating the singing with the dramatic action. The action was updated from the 1820’s to 1930’s Spain during the Spanish Civil War. The set was a little bit uninspiring in the opening Acts (at least what I saw of it!) but I liked the cavernous mountain setting in the third Act and the ornate and colourful Spanish costumes. As with the Marriage of Figaro, the sets revolved at various points to enhance the natural flow of the action. At the beginning of the First and Third Acts, there were two beautifully performed and erotically charged pas de deux which helped to set the mood of the opera.
Anita Rachvelishvili was a terrific Carmen both vocally and dramatically. She has a plush and richly coloured mezzo voice which is absolutely perfect for the role and she threw herself into the dramatic scenes with aplomb. We see her using her feminine wiles to entrance and seduce Don José (she flashed bare legs in various scenes and at one point we see Don José mounting her on a table), throwing herself into the flamenco dances and facing up to her assailant at the end of the opera with an unfaltering dignity. She sang the famous habanera in a beautifully rounded and intensely lyrical way and she brought a sense of zest and abandon to the flamenco rhythms of the seguidilla. Latvian tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko has a powerful voice and he gave us some highly charged and dramatic singing particularly in the first and last acts. He was highly believable in the role of Don José and we see him change from being hopelessly besotted with Carmen to being sexually jealous and obsessed and becoming a rather dangerous and unwelcome stalker. I wondered if he might have reined his voice in a little more in some of the quieter, more reflective passages in the opera. I think this would help to create a more rounded Don José and give us a wider variety of vocal timbres.
Romanian Soprano Anita Hartig gave an absolutely stunning performance in the role of Micaëla. She has a very powerful but also beautifully nuanced Soprano voice and she deploys a light vibrato to good effect. Her Act 3 aria, Je dis que rien ne m’épouvante was a rapturous piece of singing that deservedly brought the house down. The ever dependable Ildar Abdrazakov moved seamlessly from singing Figaro a few weeks ago to Escamillo in this production. The famous Toreador song was performed with verve and brio and without any hint of cliché and there was strong support from the Metropolitan Opera Chorus. The rest of the cast all acquitted themselves well and I particularly liked the ensemble singing and dancing from the smugglers with Kiri Deonarine and Jennifer Johnson Cano being the two stand out characters for me.
Pablo Heras-Casado kept a firm grip on proceedings and he provided an able and responsive accompaniment to the singers. The thrill of the bullfight and the showmanship of the toreador were conveyed well in the overture. Heras-Casado also did a very good job synthesising the idiomatic Spanish textures and colours with the more conventional operatic material. The Met orchestra played brilliantly throughout and they made some of the very famous music in this opera sound completely fresh and invigorating.
Another fine production from the Met with the plaudits on this occasion going to Rachvelishvili, Hartig and Abdrazakov.