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Blu-ray Review

Georges Bizet

BelAir Blu-ray 421

Carmen

  • Carmen - Ekaterina Semenchuk
  • Micaëla - Irina Lungu
  • Don José - Carlo Ventre
  • Escamillo - Carlos Álvarez
  • Frasquita - Francesca Micarelli
  • Mercédès - Cristina Melis
  • Le Dancaïre - Federico Longhi
  • Le Remendado - Paolo Antognetti
  • Zuniga - Seung Pil Choi
  • Moralès - Francesco Verna
  • Lead Dancers - Antonio Russo, Manuel Barzon, Teresa Strisciulli, Amaya Ugarteche
Arena di Verona Orchestra & Chorus/Henrik Nánási
Arena di Verona Dance Company
Stage Director and Set Designer - Franco Zeffirelli
Costume Design - Anna Anni
Lighting Design - Paolo Mazzon
Choreography - El Camborio (after Lucia Real)
Recorded Live at the Arena di Verona - June, 2014
BelAir Classiques Blu-ray BAC421 159m PCM Stereo DTS-HD Master Audio
Find it at AmazonFind it at Amazon UKFind it at Amazon GermanyFind it at Amazon CanadaFind it at Amazon FranceFind it at Amazon JapanOrder Now from ArkivMusic.comFind it at CD Universe Find it at JPC
Also available on DVD BAC121: Amazon - UK - Germany - Canada - France - Japan - ArkivMusic - CD Universe - JPC

As the reader will note, this is a Franco Zeffirelli production, which, as far as many opera mavens and critics are concerned – and this reviewer in particular – is always a major asset in the staging of any opera. But it's also an open-air event, which is arguably at least a minor deficit in virtually any operatic effort: voices and instruments don't come across with quite the same impact and clarity. Still, that's hardly a deal-breaker here, as one's ears can adjust pretty well to the different sound properties of this otherwise very persuasive performance.

To get back to Zeffirelli for a moment and why his productions are so outstanding… Typically, they feature a traditional treatment of the opera, historically accurate and very colorful costuming, lavish sets, imaginative lighting effects, a topnotch cast, many supernumeraries, and well trained animals (several horses and a donkey are used here). Also, there is always a general sense in his productions that you are witnessing a special event. It seems that no expense is spared in his various efforts, this one being no exception. That said, the original staging of this Carmen in 1995, according to one probably reliable account, was said to be even more lavish than this one. Perhaps it was, but this effort is certainly no pauper's version of Bizet's popular masterpiece. Indeed, and camera shots from afar, showing the packed amphitheater of the Arena di Verona give the proceedings a truly lavish and grand appearance.

In this production the opening and closing acts are especially impressive in their scenery, as well as in their majesty and scope. The darkish lighting effects and mountains in the background in Act III are very effective and contrast well with the splashier sets from the other acts. The ballet dancers only add to the visual splendor throughout the performance. The orchestra and chorus perform well too, under the very capable direction of Henrik Nánási. But, you ask, what about the singers?

Ekaterina Semenchuk as Carmen is quite convincing throughout, though her Habanera could have been a little more spirited and wanton, good though it was. She does seem to get stronger and more involved as the performance goes along. That said, while she portrays the sassy and sultry character of Carmen quite well, she also conveys a sort of matronly demeanor in her appearance at times. Carlo Ventre is a very strong but not outstanding Don José. Veteran baritone Carlos Alvarez as Escamillo is certainly vocally and dramatically impressive but, especially in Votre toast, je peux vous le rendre (the famous Toreador number), cannot summon the youthful manner and energy to effectively depict the dashing young toreador. Still, he's quite fine. The one outstanding performance here among major cast members is the Micaëla of Irina Lungu. Try her C'est des contrebandiers from Act III, a number that drew huge applause, whistles and bravos from the audience. During the curtain calls, Lungu seemed to be the audience favorite. Seung Pil Choi must also be cited for his fine portrayal of Zuniga.

The camera work, sound reproduction and picture clarity on this BelAir Classiques Blu-ray disc are quite excellent. I have reviewed two other Carmen video releases here, another Zeffirelli production, on two DVD discs, that featured Marina Domashenko as Carmen (TDK DVOPCAR) and a rather raunchy but splendidly-performed modernized version featuring Béatrice Uria-Monzon in the lead (Unitel Classica Blu-ray 707404). Both were outstanding in their very different ways. On the whole, this new Carmen ranks nearly with these other two and can certainly be strongly recommended.

Copyright © 2015, Robert Cummings

Trumpet