Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Mascagni's Isabeau at Opera Holland Park: in conversation with David Butt Philip

Opera directors are used to thinking their way out of theatrical, dramaturgical and musico-dramatic conundrums, but one of the more unusual challenges must be how to stage the spectacle of a young princess’s naked horseback-ride through the streets of a city.

Grange Park Opera travels to America

The Italian censors forced Giuseppe Verdi and his librettist Antonio Somma to relocate their operatic drama of the murder of the Swedish King Gustav III to Boston, demote the monarch to state governor and rename him Riccardo, and for their production of Un ballo in maschera at Grange Park Opera, director Stephen Medcalf and designer Jamie Vartan have left the ‘ruler’ in his censorial exile.

Puccini’s La bohème at The Royal Opera House

When I reviewed Covent Garden’s Tosca back in January, I came very close to suggesting that we might be entering a period of crisis in casting the great Puccini operas. Fast forward six months, and what a world of difference!

Na’ama Zisser's Mamzer Bastard (world premiere)

Let me begin, like an undergraduate unsure quite what to say at the beginning of an essay: there were many reasons to admire the first performance of Na’ama Zisser’s opera, Mamzer Bastard, a co-commission from the Royal Opera and the Guildhall.

Les Arts Florissants : An English Garden, Barbican London

At the Barbican, London, Les Arts Florissants conducted by Paul Agnew, with soloists of Le Jardin de Voix in "An English Garden" a semi-staged programme of English baroque.

Die Walküre in San Francisco

The hero Siegfried in utero, Siegmund dead, Wotan humiliated, Brünnhilde asleep, San Francisco’s Ring ripped relentlessly into the shredded emotional lives of its gods and mortals. Conductor Donald Runnicles laid bare Richard Wagner’s score in its most heroic and in its most personal revelations, in their intimacy and in their exploding release.

Das Rheingold in San Francisco

Alberich’s ring forged, the gods moved into Valhalla, Loge’s Bic flicked, Wagner’s cumbersome nineteenth century mythology began unfolding last night here in Bayreuth-by-the-Bay.

ENO's Acis and Galatea at Lilian Baylis House

The shepherds and nymphs are at play! It’s end-of-the-year office-party time in Elysium. The bean-bags, balloons and banners - ‘Work Hard, Play Harder’ - invite the weary workers of Mountain Media to let their hair down, and enter the ‘Groves of Delights and Crystal Fountains’.

Lohengrin at the Royal Opera House

Since returning to London in January, I have been heartened by much of what I have seen - and indeed heard - from the Royal Opera.

Stéphane Degout and Simon Lepper

Another wonderful Wigmore song recital: this time from Stéphane Degout – recently shining in George Benjamin's new operatic masterpiece,

An excellent La finta semplice from Classical Opera

‘How beautiful it is to love! But even more beautiful is freedom!’ The opening lines of the libretto of Mozart’s La finta semplice are as contradictory as the unfolding tale is ridiculous. Either that master of comedy, Carlo Goldoni, was having an off-day when he penned the text - which was performed during the Carnival of 1764 in the Teatro Giustiniani di S. Moisè in Venice with music by Salvatore Perillo - or Marco Coltellini, the poeta cesareo who was entertaining the Viennese aristocracy in 1768, took unfortunate liberties with poetry and plot.

Pan-European Orpheus : Julian Prégardien

"Orpheus I am!" - An unusual but very well chosen collection of songs, arias and madrigals from the 17th century, featuring Julian Prégardien and Teatro del mondo. Devised by Andreas Küppers, this collection crosses boundaries demonstrating how Italian, German, French and English contemporaries responded to the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice.

Whatever Love Is: The Prince Consort at Wigmore Hall

‘We love singing songs, telling stories …’ profess The Prince Consort on their website, and this carefully curated programme at Wigmore Hall perfectly embodied this passion, as Artistic Director and pianist Alisdair Hogarth was joined by tenor Andrew Staples (the Consort’s Creative Director), Verity Wingate (soprano) and poet Laura Mucha to reflect on ‘whatever love is’.

Bryn Terfel's magnetic Mephisto in Amsterdam

It had been a while since Bryn Terfel sang a complete opera role in Amsterdam. Back in 2002 his larger-than-life Doctor Dulcamara hijacked the stage of what was then De Nederlandse Opera, now Dutch National Opera.

Laci Boldemann’s Opera Black Is White, Said the Emperor

We normally think of operas as being serious or comical. But a number of operas-some familiar, others forgotten-are neither of these. Instead, they are fantastical, dealing with such things as the fairy world and sorcerers, or with the world of dreams.

A volcanic Elektra by the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic

“There are no gods in heaven!” sings Elektra just before her brother Orest kills their mother. In the Greek plays about the cursed House of Atreus the Olympian gods command the banished Orestes to return home and avenge his father Agamemnon’s murder at the hands of his wife Clytemnestra. He dispatches both her and her lover Aegisthus.

Così fan tutte: Opera Holland Park

Absence makes the heart grow fonder; or does it? In Così fan tutte, who knows? Or rather, what could such a question even mean?

The poignancy of triviality: Garsington Opera's Capriccio

“Wort oder Ton?” asks Richard Strauss’s final opera, Capriccio. The Countess answers with a question of her own, at the close of this self-consciously self-reflective Konversationstück für Musik: “Gibt es einen, der nicht trivail ist?” (“Is there any ending that isn’t trivial?”)

Netia Jones' new Die Zauberflöte opens Garsington Opera's 2018 season

“These portals, these columns prove/that wisdom, industry and art reside here.” So says Tamino, as he gazes up at the three imposing doors in the centre of Netia Jones’ replica of the 18th-century Wormsley Park House - in the grounds of which Garsington Opera’s ‘floating’ Pavilion makes its home each summer.

Feverish love at Opera Holland Park: a fine La traviata opens the 2018 season

If there were any doubts that it was soon to be curtains for Verdi’s titular, tubercular heroine then the tortured gasps of laboured, languishing breath which preceded Rodula Gaitanou’s new production of La traviata for Opera Holland Park would have swiftly served to dispel them.

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):