Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

First Night of the BBC Proms : Elgar The Kingdom

The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.

Le nozze di Figaro, Munich

One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.

James Gilchrist at Wigmore Hall

Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.

Music for a While: Improvisations on Henry Purcell

‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.

Nabucco at Orange

The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.

Richard Strauss: Notturno

Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.

Saint Louis: A Hit is a Hit is a Hit

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.

La Flûte Enchantée (2e Acte)
at the Aix Festival

In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.

Ariodante at the Aix Festival

High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.

Lucy Crowe, Wigmore Hall

The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.

The Turn of the Screw, Holland Park

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.

Plenty of Va-Va-Vroom: La Fille du Regiment, Iford

It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?

La finta giardiniera, Glyndebourne

‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’

Sophie Karthäuser, Wigmore Hall

Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to convey emotion and embody character.

Ariadne auf Naxos, Royal Opera

‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.

Leoš Janáček : The Cunning Little Vixen, Garsington Opera at Wormsley

Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.

La Traviata in Marseille

It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).

Madama Butterfly in San Francisco

Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.

Luca Francesconi : Quartett, Linbury Studio Theatre, London

Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.

Puccini Manon Lescaut, Royal Opera House, London

Manon Lescaut at the Royal Opera House, London, brings out the humanity which lies beneath Puccini's music. The composer was drawn to what we'd now called "outsiders. In Manon Lescaut, Puccini describes his anti-heroine with unsentimental honesty. His lush harmonies describe the way she abandons herself to luxury, but he doesn't lose sight of the moral toughness at the heart of Abbé Prévost's story, Manon is sensual but, like her brother, fatally obssessed with material things. Only when she has lost everything else does she find true values through love..

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Christine Rice as Carmen [Photo by Mike Hoban courtesy of The Royal Opera]
07 Jun 2010

First Opera in 3D — Carmen, Royal Opera House

Everyone knows the tunes from Bizet's Carmen even if they don't know it's an opera. Now the Royal Opera House, London, is making the world's best known opera into the world's first 3D opera film.

Georges Bizet: Carmen

Moralés: Dawid Kimberg; Micaëla: Maija Kovalevska; Don José: Bryan Hymel; Zuniga: Nicolas Courjal; Carmen: Christine Rice; Frasquita: Elena Xanthoudakis; Mercédès: Paula Murrihy; Lillas Pastia: Caroline Lena Olsson; Escamillo: Aris Argiris; Le Dancaïre: Adrian Clarke; Le Remendado: Harry Nicoll; Guide: Anthony de Baeck. Actors, Dancers, Members of Trinity Boys’ Choir and Trinity School, Croydon (director: David Swinson); Members of Tiffin Girls’ School Choir (choirmaster: Simon Ferris); Royal Opera Chorus and extra chorus (chorus director: Renato Balsadonna), Orchestra of the Royal Opera House. Conductor: Constantinos Carydis. Director: Francesca Zambello. Revival Director: Duncan Macfarland. Designs: Tanya McCallin. Lighting: Paule Constable. Choreography: Arthur Pita. Fight Director: Mike Loades. Revival Fight Director: Natalie Dakin. Royal Opera House, London. 5th June, 2010.

Above: Christine Rice as Carmen

All photos by Mike Hoban courtesy of The Royal Opera

 

3D is a higher grade technology than the 2D High Definition filming currently available at the Metropolitan Opera, The Royal Opera and other houses. The process, developed by RealD was used in James Cameron’s hit fantasy film Avatar, and in the most recent Disney Alice in Wonderland . Carmen is so dramatic that it could have been written for the movies. So why not a spectacular new version of the opera, using state of the art technology?

Francesca Zambello’s 2006 production is a good choice too. Visually, it’s very strong, so it will appeal to audiences who aren’t necessarily familiar with this opera, or even with opera at all. This staging lends itself specially well to film in many ways. It’s as colourful as the music. The town square is depicted in glowing earth tones, red, and ochre, with a large orange tree inn the background. The smuggling scene is shrouded in mysterious blues, greys and greens. In the final scene, the empty street is lit by garish light. Carmen has nowhere to hide.

CARMEN-9946_0590_1-HYMEL-AS.gifBryan Hymel as Don José and Christine Rice as Carmen

This is an eventful staging, full of details that translate well into film. The townsfolk are busy doing different things, selling fruit, washing themselves, playing guitars. A donkey is led through the crowd. The children’s choruses are delightful, each child an individual. The dance scenes are excellent, thanks to the combined forces of the Royal Opera and Royal Ballet. You can tell professional dancers apart from dancing singers, but that’s part of the fun. The toreadors are dazzling. No wonder the people adore the Corrida, and its colourful trappings. It’s circus, an escape from daily life, despite the blood and death.

First Night Syndrome affects every production, but this time there’s the film to think about too. So much is hanging on the success of the film, which is a historic first. So it was good to follow the first performance, imagining how it would develop as the run continues, and how it might be adapted for film. I looked out for details, like the way there are small ensembles high above the stage, easily missed during normal performance. From there, striking panoramas could be shot of the action below.

CARMEN-9946_0003-KOVALEVSKA.gifMaija Kovalevska as Micaëla and Dawid Kimberg as Moralès

Christine Rice’s dark good looks make her a good choice for the part. Her singing is precise and attractive, but wilder abandon would liven the characterization. Carmen’s lowdown, mean and dirty. Rice is well-bred and lady-like, not really the sort of girl who sticks men’s heads up her skirt to taunt them, like Carmen does in this staging. Rice is best when she shows the softer sides of Carmen’s personality, such as in the card game trio with Frasquita (Elena Xanthoudakis) and Mercédès (Paula Murrihy). All three singing particularly well. A wonderful vignette.

Aris Argiris’s Escamillo has huge potential. The “public” and “private” Escamillos co-exist, but often the public version dominates attention. The Act Two entrance is so dramatic that it overshadows all else. In this production he’s astride a real black stallion which carries him above the crowd. It takes your breath away, even if you know it’s coming. But what was interesting for me was the way Argiris conveyed the double edge of the Toreador song. Escamillo’s describing the spectacle of a bullfight, yet there’s a wistful vulnerability when he sings of the “dark eyes” that are watching. This is important, for what Escamillo and Carmen have in common is this inner sensitivity other people cannot see, but which they recognize in each other.

Film can show details easily lost in a large auditorium, so Argiris’s finely focused characterization will “grow” to advantage in close-ups. The part is written in an unusual way. The big entrance is dramatic, but it doesn’t last long. There’s more singing in the duel scene, where the part is written more conventionally. Then in the final act, Escamillo doesn’t actually have very much to sing at all. But therein lies the intelligence of Bizet’s approach. It’s not the macho big moments that make Escamillo, but the short, concealed glimpses of who he really is.

The critical part in the entrance scene isn’t the flamboyance, but the moment when Escamillo sees Carmen and knows instinctively that hers are the black eyes that have been awaiting him. The final love duet lasts only moments, but again, it’s powerful because it’s direct and private. Argiris’s Escamillo is much deeper than the usual flashy image. Because film can focus on detail, we’ll be able to appreciate this thoughtful approach to Escamillo. Indeed, this more intimate focus may also reveal the true depths of Christine Rice’s Carmen.

CARMEN-9948_0441-ARGIRIS-AS.gifAris Argiris as Escamillo

It’s significant how Bizet contrasts the two couples, Carmen and Escamillo and José and Micaëla. The former don’t actually sing all that much, but the latter sing on, and on. Since the latter pair are more conventional, their parts are written more conventionally too. Brian Hymel’s Don José struggled vocally in the first act, but by the final, and critical act, he was in better form. He’ll be heard to advantage as the run progresses, and in the film. Singing, unlike bullfighting, isn’t sudden death.

Maija Kovalevska’s Micaëla on the other hand was superb from beginning to end. Sometimes, Micaëla seems like a minor part because she’s just a kid, but Kovalevska’s solid vocal authority brings out the role’s hidden power. Micaëla travels into smuggler’s dens to find José. She’s more of a man than he is, sweet as she may be. Indeed, she’s a prototype of Carmen herself, because she, too, is independent and takes risks for love. It’s her Covent Garden debut too, but she’s sung the role at the Met and in Munich. She has impressive experience elsewhere too.

Since Carmen is so familiar, we think we know it. But perhaps the film will reveal what we could still discover. I’m looking forward the the ROH film, 3D or not, if it’s well directed. Indeed, the angles and frames have probably already been planned. The direction of this revival could be tightened up, movements sharpened and French diction improved, but all in all, this was good.

Anne Ozorio

Carmen runs at the Royal Opera House, London, on 5, 8, 14, 16, 18, 21, 24, 26 June 2010. For more details, please see www.roh.org.uk This is a co-production with Den Norske Opera,Oslo and Opera Australia.

The 3D film will be available in cinemas worldwide from Autumn 2010. It’s part of a broader digital media strategy which ensures that the Royal Opera House has the capability to showcase its work across a wide range of media. This includes television and radio broadcasts, cinemas, BP Summer Big Screens, DVDs, online and via mobile technology. The Royal Opera House recently became the first arts organisation in Europe and the third in the world to launch its own iTunes U site.

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):