Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Laurent Pelly's production of La Fille du régiment returns to Covent Garden

French soprano Sabine Devieilhe seems to find feisty adolescence a neat fit. I first encountered her when she assumed the role of a pill-popping nightclubbing ‘Beauty’ - raced from ecstasy-induced wonder to emergency ward - when I reviewed the DVD of Krzysztof Warlikowski’s production of Handel’s Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno at Aix-en-Provence in 2016.

The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny in Aix

Make no mistake, this is about you! Jim laid-out dead on the stage floor, conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen brought his very loud orchestra (London’s Philharmonia) to an abrupt halt. Black out. The maestro then turned his spotlighted face to confront us and he held his stare. There was no mistake, the music was about us.

Mozart's Travels: Classical Opera and The Mozartists at Wigmore Hall

There was a full house at Wigmore Hall for Classical Opera’s/The Mozartists’ final concert of the 2018-19 season: a musical paysage which chartered, largely chronologically, Mozart’s youthful travels from London to The Hague, on to Paris, then Rome, concluding - following stop-overs in European cultural cities such as Munich and Vienna - with an arrival at his final destination, Prague.

Tosca in Aix

From the sublime — the Mozart Requiem — to the ridiculous, namely stage director Christophe Honoré's Tosca. A ridiculous waste of operatic resources.

A terrific, and terrifying, The Turn of the Screw at Garsington

One might describe Christopher Oram’s set for Louisa Muller’s new production of The Turn of the Screw at Garsington as ‘shabby chic’ … if it wasn’t so sinister.

Mozart Requiem in Aix

Pierre Audi, now the directeur général of the Festival d’Aix as well as the artistic director of New York City’s Park Avenue Armory opens a new era for this distinguished opera festival in the south of France with a new work by the Festival’s signature composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

A Rachmaninov Drama at Middle Temple Hall

It is Rachmaninov’s major works for orchestra - the Second and Third Piano Concertos, the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, the Symphonic Dances - alongside the All-Night Vespers and the music for solo piano, which have earned the composer a permanent place in the concert repertoire today.

Fun, Frothy, and Frivolous: L’elisir d’amore at Las Vegas

There are a dizzying array of choices for music entertainment in Las Vegas ranging from Celine Dion and Cher to Paul McCartney and Aerosmith. Admittedly, these performers are a far cry from opera, but the point is that Las Vegas residents have many options when it comes to live music.

McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro returns to the Royal Opera House

David McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has been a remarkable success since it debuted in 2006. Set with the Count of Almaviva's fearfully grand household in 1830, McVicar's trick is to surround the principals by servants in a supra-naturalistic production which emphasises how privacy is at a premium.

The Cunning Little Vixen at the Barbican Hall

The presence of a large cast of ‘animals’ in Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen can encourage directors and designers to create costume-confections ranging from Disney-esque schmaltz to grim naturalism.

Barbe-Bleue in Lyon

Stage director Laurent Pelly is famed for his Offenbach stagings, above all others his masterful rendering of Les Contes d’Hoffmann as a nightmare. Mr. Pelly has staged eleven of Offenbach’s ninety-nine operettas over the years (coincidently this production of Barbe-Bleue is Mr. Pelly’s ninety-eighth opera staging).

The Princeton Festival Presents Nixon in China

The Princeton Festival has adopted a successful and sophisticated operatic programming strategy, whereby the annual opera alternates between a standard warhorse and a less known, more challenging work. Last year Princeton presented Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. This year the choice is Nixon in China by modern American composer John Adams, which opened before a nearly full house of appreciative listeners.

Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel at Grange Park Opera

When Engelbert Humperdinck's sister, Adelheid Wette, wrote the libretto to Hansel and Gretel the idea of a poor family living in a hut near the woods, on the bread-line, would have had an element of realism to it despite the sentimental layers which Wette adds to the tale.

Handel’s Belshazzar at The Grange Festival

What a treat to see members of The Sixteen letting their hair down. This was no strait-laced post-concert knees-up, but a full on, drunken orgy at the court of the most hedonistic ruler in the Old Testament.

Don Giovanni in Paris

A brutalist Don Giovanni at the Palais Garnier, Belgian set designer Jan Versweyveld installed three huge, a vista raw cement towers that overwhelmed the Opéra Garnier’s Second Empire opulence. The eight principals faced off in a battle royale instigated by stage director Ivo van Hove. Conductor Philippe Jordan thrust the Mozart score into the depths of expressionistic conflict.

A riveting Rake’s Progress from Snape Maltings at the Aldeburgh Festival

Based on Hogarth’s 18th-century morality tale in eight paintings and with a pithy libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman, Stravinsky’s operatic farewell to Neo-classicism charts Tom Rakewell’s ironic ‘progress’ from blissful ignorance to Bedlam.

The Gardeners: a new opera by Robert Hugill

‘When war shall cease this lonely unknown spot,/ Of many a pilgrimage will be the end,/ And flowers will shine in this now barren plot/ And fame upon it through the years descend:/ But many a heart upon each simple cross/ Will hang the grief, the memory of its loss.’

Richard Jones's Boris Godunov returns to Covent Garden

There are never any real surprises with a Richard Jones production and Covent Garden’s Boris Godunov, first seen in 2016, is typical of Jones’s approach: it’s boxy, it’s ascetic, it’s over-bright, with minimalism turned a touch psychedelic in the visuals.

An enchanting Hansel and Gretel at Regent's Park Theatre

If you go out in the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise. And, it will be no picnic! For, deep in the broomstick forest that director Timothy Sheader and designer Peter McKintosh have planted on the revolving stage at Regent’s Park Theatre is a veritable Witches’ Training School.

First staged production of Offenbach's Fantasio at Garsington

Offenbach's Fantasio is one of the works where, replacing the mad-cap satire of his earlier operettas with a more romantic melancholy, he paved the way for Les contes d'Hoffmann. Unpopular during his lifetime, Fantasio disappeared and only work by the musicologist Jean-Christophe Keck brought the score together again.

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):