As the reader can observe from the heading, this is a Carmen with a superstar cast in a production from one of the world's leading opera houses. Make no mistake about it then, this is a major event, not least because the singing and dramatic skills of the cast are stellar in every sense. But some viewers will find the updated treatment of the opera aggressively modern, both in its barren sets and costuming (or lack thereof) and its tendency toward bawdiness. Carmen is placed in the 21st century here, if we can judge by the costuming, Mercedes-Benz automobiles and large flat-screen televisions that appear in the opera. As for the "bawdy" aspects, some may find them appropriate, while others will see them mostly as sensationlistic touches.
To cite some of these "touches", let's begin with the Second Act, wherein Uria-Monzon delivers a splendidly sensual Les Tringles des sistres tintaient, while during the latter part of this number viewers can be distracted by a soldier receiving oral sex behind a car. There is another simulated sex scene later on in the act when Carmen and Don Jose make love. However, both these scenes are relatively mild in comparison to the male dancer who strips totally naked at the beginning of Act 3 and wanders about for a minute or so. What this brief scene is supposed to express, I haven't the faintest clue. And the bikini-clad girl in the last act, while attractive to look at (from the male point of view, anyway), is also a pointless throw-in.
Having said all this, I don't want to suggest the production is weak or an attempt to appeal to prurient interests. Nay, I'm only pointing out distinctive and what some may regard as controversial aspects. Moreover, nothing in the production is actually shocking by modern operatic standards. In the end, I must actually rank this offering a success in general, in that gives this warhorse Bizet opera a different and mostly imaginative treatment.
As suggested above, the performances by the cast are excellent. Uria-Monzon is a superb Carmen: try her thrilling and sexy Habanera, or her dark and intense En vain, pour éviterles réponses ameres, from Act 3. Alagna, though he sometimes looks a bit disengaged, is also splendid. His La fleur tu m'avais jetée, from Act 2, is beautifully sung, as are his other arias and duets. Marina Poplavskaya is a splendid Micaela: try, as just one example, her powerfully moving Je dis que rien ne m'épouvante, from Act 3. Erwin Schrott is also excellent as Escamillo, and the rest of the cast shows no weaknesses anywhere.
Marc Piollet leads the proceedings with an incisive hand, choosing well judged tempos and drawing precise and spirited playing from the Orchestra of the Gran Teatre del Liceu and fine singing from the chorus. Really, if one accepts the validity of the production, it would be hard to beat this Carmen. Personally, I have a preference for the lavish Franco Zeffirelli production on TDK, which also featured splendid singing. But if I had to choose one video performance of Carmen on the basis of performances alone, I would take this new Unitel Classica Blu-ray. The video quality and camera work are also excellent and the sound reproduction vivid and powerful. Recommended.
Copyright © 2012, Robert Cummings