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

Temple Winter Festival: the Gesualdo Six

‘Gaudete, gaudete!’ - Rejoice, rejoice! - was certainly the underlying spirit of this lunchtime concert at Temple Church, part of the 5th Temple Winter Festival. Whether it was vigorous joy or peaceful contemplation, the Gesualdo Six communicate a reassuring and affirmative celebration of Christ’s birth in a concert which fused medieval and modern concerns, illuminating surprising affinities.

Mark Padmore and Mitsuko Uchida at the Wigmore Hall

The journey is always the same, and never the same. As Ian Bostridge remarks, at the end of his prize-winning book Schubert’s Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession, when the wanderer asks Der Leiermann, “Will you play your hurdy-gurdy to my songs?”, in the final song of Winterreise, the ‘crazy but logical procedure would be to go right back to the beginning of the whole cycle and start all over again’.

Turandot in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera wrapped up its 95th fall opera season just now with a bang up Turandot. It has been a season of hopeful hints that this venerable company may regain some of its former luster.

Daniel Michieletto's Cav and Pag returns to Covent Garden

It felt rather decadent to be sitting in an opera house at 12pm. Even more so given the passion-fuelled excesses of Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, which might seem rather too sensual and savage for mid-day consumption.

Manitoba Opera: Madama Butterfly

Manitoba Opera opened its 45th season with Puccini’s Madama Butterfly proving that the aching heart as expressed through art knows no racial or cultural divide, with the Italian composer’s self-avowed favourite opera still able to spread its poetic wings across time and space since its Milan premiere in 1904.

Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake celebrate 25 years of music-making

In 1992, concert promoter Heinz Liebrecht introduced pianist Julius Drake to tenor Ian Bostridge and an acclaimed, inspiring musical partnership was born. On Wenlock Edge formed part of their first programme, at Holkham Hall in Norfolk; and, so, in this recital at Middle Temple Hall, celebrating their 25 years of music-making, the duo included Vaughan Williams’ Housman settings for tenor, piano and string quartet alongside works with a seventeenth-century origin or flavour.

Girls of the Golden West in San Francisco

Not many (maybe any) of the new operas presented by San Francisco Opera over the past 10 years would lure me to the War Memorial Opera House a second time around. But for Girls of the Golden West just now I would be there again tomorrow night and the next, and I am eagerly awaiting all future productions.

DiDonato is superb in Semiramide at Covent Garden

It’s taken a while for Rossini’s Semiramide to reach the Covent Garden stage. The last of the operas which Rossini composed for Italian theatres between 1810-1823, Semiramide has had only one outing at the Royal Opera House since 1887, and that was a concert version in 1986.

Philippe Jaroussky and Ensemble Artaserse at the Wigmore Hall

‘His master’s masterpiece, the work of heaven’: ‘a common fountain’ from which flow ‘pure silver drops’. At the risk of effulgent hyperbole, I’d suggest that Antonio’s image of the blessed governance and purifying power of the French court - in the opening scene of Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi - is also a perfect metaphor for the voice of French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky, as it slips through Handel’s roulades like a silken ribbon.

La Rondine Takes Flight in San Jose

Kudos to San Jose Opera for offering up a wholly winning, consistently captivating new production of Puccini’s seldom performed La Rondine.

Clonter Opera Gala

Clonter’s Opera Gala in the breath-taking beautiful ball-room at the Lansdowne Club in Mayfair was a glamorously glittering smattering of opera – which made me want to run out to every opera in town.  

A New Die Walküre at Lyric Opera of Chicago

From the start of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s splendid, new production of Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre conflict and resolution are portrayed throughout with moving intensity. The central character Brünnhilde is sung by Christine Goerke and her father Wotan by Eric Owens.

As One a Haunting Success in San Diego

San Diego Opera has mined solid gold with its mesmerizing and affecting production of As One, a part of their innovative ‘Detour Series.’

OLF: Songs by Tchaikovsky, Anton Rubinstein, Rachmaninov and Georgy Sviridov

Compared to the oft-explored world of German lieder and French chansons, the songs of Russia are unfairly neglected in recordings and in the concert hall. The raw emotion and expansive lyricism present in much of this repertoire was clearly in evidence at the Holywell Music Room for the penultimate day of the celebrated Oxford Lieder Festival.

Stockhausen’s STIMMUNG and COSMIC PULSES at the Barbican.

This concert was an event on several levels - marking a decade since the death of Stockhausen, the fortieth anniversary (almost to the day) since Singcircle first performed STIMMUNG (at the Round House), and their final public performance of the piece. It was also a rare opportunity to hear (and see) Stockhausen’s last completed purely electronic work, COSMIC PULSES - an overwhelming visual and aural experience that anyone who was at this concert will long remember.

Nico Muhly's Marnie at ENO

Winston Graham’s 1961 novel Marnie was bold for its time. Its themes of sexual repression, psychological suspense and criminality set within the dark social fabric of contemporary Britain are but outlier themes of the anti-heroine’s own narrative of deceit, guilt, multiple identities and blackmail.

TOSCA: A Dramatic Sing-Fest

On November 12, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s verismo opera, Tosca, in a dramatic production directed by Tara Faircloth. Her production utilized realistic scenery from Seattle Opera and detailed costumes from the New York City Opera. Gregory Allen Hirsch’s lighting made the set look like the church of St. Andrea as some of us may have remembered it from time gone by.

The Lighthouse: Shadwell Opera at Hackney Showroom

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … and horror … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars. Make him think the evil, make him think it for himself, and you are released from weak specifications.’

Elisabeth Kulman sings Mahler's Rückert-Lieder with Sir Mark Elder and the Britten Sinfonia

Austrian singer Elisabeth Kulman has had an interesting career trajectory. She began her singing life as a soprano but later shifted to mezzo-soprano/contralto territory. Esteemed on the operatic stage, she relinquished the theatre for the concert platform in 2015, following an accident while rehearsing Tristan.

Tremendous revival of Katie Mitchell's Lucia at the ROH

The morning sickness, miscarriage and maundering wraiths are still present, but Katie Mitchell’s Lucia di Lammermoor, receiving its first revival at the ROH, seems less ‘hysterical’ this time round - and all the more harrowing for it.

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):