Overstuffed Carmen

It’s nearly five years since I saw the MetHD broadcast of Carmen with Alagna and Garanča.  I remember being quite impressed at the time.  Watching it again on Blu-ray I came away with a less favourable impression.  It’s not that it’s bad.  It’s not.  It just feels a bit lacklustre in a very crowded field.  Let’s start with the positives.  Elina Garanča is a very good Carmen.  She sings superbly and grows into the role dramatically as the work progresses.  She’s also a very good dancer and the production exploits that.  In fact dance is used very well throughout with specialist dancers used to stage a sort of prologue to each act as well as the obvious places being reinforced with “real” dancers.  As always, the Met doesn’t stint on this element and the dancers used are first rate.

1.crowdThe cast is generally pretty strong.  Barbara Frittoli is an affecting Micaëla, singing consistently sweetly and generally inhabiting the role convincingly.  Keith Miller is a more interesting Zuniga than most with a distinct touch of menace.  Teddy Tahu Rhodes is a bit dry toned but he’s a commanding physical presence as Escamillo.  Chorus and Orchestra are just fine and Yannick Nézet-Seguin, making his Met debut, conducts a lively and atmospheric reading of the score.

2.carmen_djSo, what’s not to like so much?  I found Roberto Alagna’s Don José musically and dramatically one dimensional.  There’s no real sense of moral degeneration and he tends to bleat.  It’s not that he can’t do the role.  He’s first class in the Bieito production but here he just doesn’t seem to get into it.  Maybe he just wasn’t enamoured of Richard Eyre’s production?  It’s traditional and doesn’t have much to say.  It’s also very busy with lots of people and props on a very crowded stage.  I found it fatiguing especially when compared to Matthew Hartmann’s starkly simple staging.

3.zunigaThe busyness of the staging isn’t helped by Gary Halvorson’s characteristically claustrophobic video direction.  It’s his usual mix of close ups and odd angles.  Also, the “walk off” interviews and act introductions (Renèe Fleming) are left in the main track rather than moved to a bonus track which had me reaching for the “skip” button.  The longer interviews are left as separate features.  Picture and sound (DTS HD surround) are the usual MetHD high standard and there are French, German, English, Spanish and Chinese subtitles.  The booklet has an essay, synopsis and detailed track listing.

4.carmen_esamilloSo, this is by no means a bad Carmen but Bieito has more to say and a better performance from Alagna while Hartmann has a compelling production with very fine performances from Kaufmann and Kasarova.

5.end

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4 thoughts on “Overstuffed Carmen

  1. I was suprised you liked this the first time around. I saw maybe the fourth or fifth performance in the run and felt like I was watching maybe the third or fourth revival of a 10 year old production. Never liked Alagna’s voice and Garanca’s Carmen left me cold. Grim and ugly Carmen set during the Spanish Civil War–if I was running an opera company and a director came to me with this “konzept” I would throw him out the window. How I wish Herheim’s museum Carmen would be filmed–that looks like a fun and interesting production.

    • I’d never pass on a Herheim production! Garanca’s Carmen is cold. I assumed that was deliberate. My first thought was of “Carmen in love with Death” but I don’t think the production really sustains that idea and when I look who has sung in it since I can’t justify it. I don’t mind “gritty”. Bieito’s production is very gritty but it makes sense on its own terms. I’m not sure this one really had any sense to make.

      • I don’t mind grit in my Carmen–but Eyre couldn’t come up with anything better than the Spanish Civil War? Based on this and the Werther and Figaro he did at the Met (and the Manon Lescaut scheduled for next season) his MO seems to be to just update the production to another time and call it a day. The Figaro he just did is set around 1930 but it could have just as well been 1780. One would think there are things that could be done with a Figaro set on the eve of the Great Depression and a few years before the Spanish Civil War but that would require thought. The only rationale for his employment at the Met that I can think of is that the odious Bartlett Sher was not available for these productions. How did he ever get the “Sir?”

      • I very much agree with you about pointless changes of period. There needs to be a rationale. It’s something Bieito understands very well. One may not agree with his choices but they do have a logic to them. The Broadway crew just seem to be interested in the visuals. It’s very shallow and I think the audience deserves more than a superficial gloss of a production. Sadly though I suspect many want exactly that.

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