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 Performances

Guillaume Tell, Covent Garden

It is twenty-three years since Rossini’s opera of cultural oppression, inspiring heroism and tender pathos was last seen on the Covent Garden stage, but this eagerly awaited new production of Guillaume Tell by Italian director Damiano Micheletto will be remembered more for the audience outrage and vociferous mid-performance booing that it provoked — the most persistent and strident that I have heard in this house — than for its dramatic, visual or musical impact.

Aida, Opera Holland Park

With its outrageous staging demands, you sometimes wonder why opera companies want to produce Verdi’s Aida. But the piece is about far more than pharaohs, pyramids and camels.

Death in Venice, Garsington Opera

Given the enduring resonance and impact of the magnificent visual aesthetic of Visconti’s 1971 film of Thomas Mann’s novella, opera directors might be forgiven for concluding that Britten’s Death in Venice does not warrant experimentation with period and design, and for playing safe with Edwardian elegance, sweeping Venetian vistas and stylised seascapes.

La Rondine Swoops Into St. Louis

If La Rondine (The Swallow) is a less-admired work than rest of the mature Puccini canon, you wouldn’t have known it by the lavish production now lovingly staged by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Emmeline a Stunner in Saint Louis

Few companies have championed new or neglected works quite as fervently and consistently as the industrious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Luminous Handel in Saint Louis

For Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, “everything old is new again.”

Two Women in San Francisco

Why would an American opera company devote its resources to the premiere of an opera by an Italian composer? Furthermore a parochially Italian story?

Les Troyens in San Francisco

Berlioz’ Les Troyens is in two massive parts — La prise de Troy and Troyens à Carthage.

Dog Days at REDCAT

On Saturday evening June 13, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Dog Days, a new opera with music by David T. Little and a text by Royce Vavrek. In the opera adopted from a story of the same name by Judy Budnitz, thirteen-year-old Lisa tells of her family’s mental and physical disintegration resulting from the ravages of a horrendous war.

Opera Las Vegas Presents Exquisite Madama Butterfly

Audiences at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan first saw Madama Butterfly on February 17, 1904. It was not the success it is these days, and Puccini revised it before its scheduled performances in Brescia.

Yardbird, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia is a very well-managed opera company with a great vision. Every year it presents a number of well-known “warhorse” operas, usually in the venerable Academy of Music, and a few more adventurous productions, usually in a chamber opera format suited to the smaller Pearlman Theater.

Giovanni Paisiello: Il Barbiere di Siviglia

Written in 1783, Giovanni Paisiello’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia reigned for three decades as one of Europe’s most popular operas, before being overshadowed forever by Rossini’s classic work.

Princeton Festival: Le Nozze di Figaro

The Princeton Festival has established a reputation for high-quality summer opera. In recent years works by Handel, Britten, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Wagner and Gershwin have been performed at Matthews Theater on Princeton University campus: a 1100-seat auditorium with good sight-lines though a somewhat dry and uneven acoustic.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail,
Glyndebourne

Die Entführung aus dem Serail was Mozart’s first great public success in Vienna, and it became the composer’s most oft performed opera during his lifetime.

German Lieder Is Given a Dramatic Twist by The Ensemble for the Romantic Century

The Ensemble for the Romantic Century offered a thoughtful and well-curated evening in their production of The Sorrows of Young Werther, which is part theatrical performance and part art song concert.

Hans Werner Henze: Ein Landarzt and Phaedra

This was an adventurous double bill of two ‘quasi-operas’ by Hans Werner Henze, performed by young singers who are studying on the postgraduate Opera Course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Dido and Aeneas, Spitalfields Festival

High brick walls, a cavernous space, entered via a narrow passage just off a London thoroughfare: Village Underground in Shoreditch is probably not that far removed from the venue in which Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas was first performed — whether that was Josiah Priest’s girl’s school in Chelsea or the court of Charles II or James II.

Intermezzo, Garsington Opera

Hats off to Garsington for championing once again some criminally neglected Strauss. I overheard someone there opine, ‘Of course, you can understand why it isn’t done very often.’

Cosi fan tutte, Garsington Opera

Mozart and Da Ponte’s Cosi fan tutte provides little in the way of background or back story for the plot, thus allowing directors to set the piece in a variety settings.

The Queen of Spades, ENO

Based on a play, Chrysomania (The Passion for Money), by the Russian playwright Prince Alexander Shokhovskoy, Pushkin’s short story The Queen of Spades is, in the words of one literary critic, ‘a sardonic commentary on the human condition’.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Patricia Bardon (Carmen) in Act Two of
13 Oct 2013

Carmen, Yet Again

No matter how or where Carmen is produced, or by whom directed, costumed and performed, its promise of free wheeling sex and exciting rhythmic music, has made it one of the most popular operas in the world.

Carmen, Yet Again

A review by Estelle Gilson

Above: Patricia Bardon (Carmen) in Act Two of "Carmen" with Brandon Jovanovich, in background, as Don Jose. [Photo by Robert Millard]

 

It will be performed more than 500 times this year in 104 cities from Aachen to Zurich with stops before such diverse populations as the residents of Reno and Riga, Mersin and Maribor. Likely comics and schoolkids in Nizhni Novgorod where it will also appear in 20013, sing Russian jingles to the “Toreador Song”

The Los Angeles Opera too, assured itself of success by opening its current (2003-14) season with the work. The company chose to repeat a production created by Emilio Sagi for the Teatro Real of Madrid in 2002, which it had previously performed in 2004 and 2008 to enthusiastic reviews.

I, too, enjoy Carmen’s music, but have yet to see a performance that has persuaded me to love the opera.

Georges Bizet created Carmen in 1875 as a commission for the Opéra-Comique in Paris. Offered several subjects for his new work by the company, Bizet rejected them all. Despite warnings that the tale was too harsh and brutal for the Opéra-Comique’s audience, he insisted on basing his opera on Prosper Mérimée’s novella, Carmen, about a sexually free gypsy smuggler, who is murdered by her lover. Promising to accommodate the Comique’s standards, his librettists, Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, a duo who specialized in light weight works, tried to clean Carmen up by decriminalizing most of her activities, and by counterbalancing her free loving ways with God fearing Micaëla (who does not appear in the Mérimée work). Unfortunately, they still had Don José kill Carmen in a jealous rage, which did not sit well with the local folks. Bizet died at age 36 thinking the work a failure.

Gypsies were hot theatrical box office in the 19th century in large part in response to an 1827 poem by Alexander Pushkin, titled The Gypsies, which is said to have been based on the poet’s torrid, but brief experience living in a gypsy camp. They also found their way into opera. Sergei Rachmaninoff ‘s opera Aleko is based directly on the poem. Mérimée’s tale too, owes much to the Pushkin. Verdi’s gypsies, Azucena (Il Trovatore) Preziosilla(La Forza del destino) and Ulrica ( Masked Ball) are far less glamorous than Carmen, but Victor Hugo’s young and beautiful Esmeralda (The Hunchback of Notre Dame) also became an opera heroine in La Esmeralda, an opera by Louise Bertin, for which Hugo, himself, wrote the libretto.

Sagi’s production features large, full stage sets. The first act set and costumes particularly, created an unengaged, unrealistic mood. Cigarette girls in gauzy pale costumes and the solders in elegant white cutaway coats, did nothing to whet the appetite for passion. Micaëla, in long, heavy garments and daintily heeled shoes, could never have gotten through mountain passes in her search for Don José.

Though Carmen is an opera whose plot purports to turn on love, it is a work essentially devoid of love - and of the music of love. Every word that Carmen speaks, every phrase she sings to José - even as he recalls the cherished flower she gave him, is nasty and taunting. Did she ever love him? Or did she seduce him only to escape prison? She does make one declaration of love in the opera. It is a brief, unimpassioned repetition of the love melody Escamillo sings to her in the last act. Is she in love now? The music isn’t convincing. And isn’t he the one who bought her that snazzy red dress? I find only two emotionally engaging moments in the opera. Carmen’s card song, predicting her death, and José’s “Flower Song”. And yes, add his outbursts of anger in the last scene. Micaëla does not sing of love. Nothing that Micaëla’s says or sings makes her believable. No music Bizet composed, no words Meilhac or Halévy wrote, no shading any sopranos have brought to these two roles, has led me to respond to these women as other than stock characters.

Patricia Bardon was a mildly sexy Carmen. Though her dark mezzo soprano suited the musical range of the character, her dancing (mostly skirt swishing) was far from seductive. Her second act dance (Carmen’s reward to José for returning to her after his imprisonment), performed without castanets (the clacking came from the orchestra) was pallid. Tenor Brandon Jovanovich, who sang Don José, is a singer who moves easily from Puccini to Wagner. His lyricism stood him in good stead in the “Flower Song” - his power and dramatic capacity highlighted the last scene. Bass baritone, Ildebrando D’Arcangelo, usually a commanding presence in any cast, seemed somewhat lack luster as Escamillo. But then, the Toreador’s entrances and exits, which are generally staged as brilliant, almost pompous affairs, were undramatic. The sound of Escamillo’s voice singing the “Toreador Song” before his third act appearance evoked audience laughter, as did his invitation to Don José to fight with him, reflecting a problem in stage direction. Soprano Pretty Yende, debuting with the company, was a charming, lyrical Micaëla. Though the libretto implies that Micaëla, an orphan, and Don José, were brought up almost as sister and brother, there was a strange lack of familiarity between them, to say nothing of love. Hae Ji Chang as Frasquita, and Cassandra Zoé Velasco as Mercédès performed a delightful and well sung duet. Keith Jameson and Museop Kim were convincing as El Remendado and El Dancaïre.

Conductor ‎Plácido Domingo offered a whiplashed overture, and a performance that emphasized rhythm over lyricism. The Los Angeles Children’s chorus acquitted themselves well, and except for a moment at its third act entrance, so did the Los Angeles Chorus.

The colorful costumes and fiery choreography created by Nuria Castejón encapsulated the sexiness and tension lacking elsewhere.

Perhaps some day, with a passionate advocate in the pit, producers, directors, and actor/singers committed to make its possessed character’s motives emotionally meaningful, I will see a performance of Carmen I, too, can love. But I fear the opera’s faults lie with Messieurs Meilhac, Halévy and Bizet, so I’m not very optimistic.

Estelle Gilson


Cast and production information:

Carmen:Patricia Bardon; Don José:Brandon Jovanovich; Micaëla:Pretty Yende; Escamillo: Ildebrando D’Arcangelo; Zuniga:Valentin Anikin; Moralès:Daniel Armstrong; Frasquita: Hae Ji Chang; Mercédès: Cassandra Zoé Velasco; El Remendado: Keith Jameson; Dancaïre:Museop Kim. Conductor: Plácido Domingo. Original Production: Emilio Sagi. Director: Trevore Ross. Set Designer: Gerardo Trotti. Costume Designer: Jesús del Pozo. Lighting Designer: Guido Levi. Original Choreographer: Nuria Castejón.

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):