A Nicely Sung Carmen, but a Disappointing and Unconvincing New Production

GermanyGermany Bizet, Carmen: Orchestra and Chorus of the Deutsche Oper Berlin / Ivan Repušić (conductor), Deutsche Oper, Berlin, 27.1.2018. (JMI)

Carmen © M. Lieberenz
Carmen © M. Lieberenz

Carmen – Clémentine Margaine
Don José – Charles Castronovo
Micaëla – Heidi Stober
Escamillo – Markus Brück
Zuniga – Tobias Kehrer
Moralès – Philipp Jecal
Frasquita – Nicole Haslett
Mercédès – Jana Kurucová
Remendado – Ya-Chung Huang
Dancairo – Dean Murphy

Director – Ole Anders Tandberg
Sets – Erlend Birkeland
Costumes – Maria Geber
Lighting – Ellen Ruge

This was one of the most boring and disappointing performances I remember of Carmen, and the new Deutsche Oper production makes it almost impossible for the opera to succeed. The Ole Anders Tandberg staging premiered a few days ago, and this was the third performance. In an attempt, perhaps, to be imaginative and ground-breaking, Carmen and her troop are conceived not as ordinary smugglers, but rather as a gang of organ traffickers; Act III features the execution of all the traffickers’ companions and the subsequent extraction of their organs. The aria of the cards is done with organs, hearts and kidneys in particular, and the opera ends with the death of Carmen at the hands of Don José, who immediately extracts her heart and raises it while singing.

The action seems to be set in Mexico, at least judging by the costumes of the chorus in the last act, but the incongruities are many (for one, Carmen and her friends wear Andalusian costumes). There is no changing of the guard in Act I, and Don José appears on stage as if he had fallen from the sky. The figure of Escamillo is true nonsense: it’s difficult to find a bullfighter as inadequate as the one offered here. At all times, whether in Lilas Pastia’s tavern or in the last two acts, he wears a yellow torero suit, accompanied by muleta and sword. In the duel scene, Don José uses a knife while Escamillo attacks with muleta and sword, as if killing a bull. And on it goes…

There is one staging for the whole opera, which consists of a circular rotating platform with a large grandstand at the front and a metallic semicircle in the back. The stage turns almost continuously, as if it were a merry go round, and it adds to the confusion.

The musical direction was in the hands of Ivan Repušić, who is often in the pit of the Deutsche Oper. I found his conducting unconvincing, somewhat noisy and rather flat, but have to admit that it cannot be easy to conduct an opera like this one. The Deutsche Oper did well, but the chorus was not as compelling as on previous occasions.

Carmen was sung by mezzo-soprano Clémentine Margaine, who gave a strong performance. It would be interesting to see her again in a different production, since she too had to suffer the inconveniences of this one.

Don José was played by tenor Charles Castronovo, whose voice has gained in amplitude in recent years. He is well-suited to the character and his timbre is attractive, although his singing is somewhat impersonal.

Soprano Heidi Stober did well in the part of Micaëla, both in the duet with Don José in the first act, and in her aria in Act III which she sings while visiting the corpses of all those who have been killed by Carmen and her troop.

Baritone Markus Brück as Escamillo was not at his best. I’ve always found him to be a great singer, but here he seemed outside his element and fell short on the lowest notes.

The secondary characters were generally satisfactory, with Jana Kurucová as Mercédès the most interesting.

José M. Irurzun

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