Carmen, Metropolitan Opera live relay, January 2010Posted on 16 January 2010
Prosper Mérimée’s novella, on which this story is based, was partly inspired by his encounter with a condemned prisoner in Spain, about to be executed for murdering a gypsy. At the end of this opera, Roberto Alagna as Don Jose made me think that here is the man who killed the gypsy, which says something about the success of this new production by Richard Eyre. At the end of Act I, Alagna showed himself to be weak in giving in to Elina Garanča’s wonderfully strong Carmen, but at the end of Act IV he finds the inner strength to destroy her, sealing his own fate. Carmen herself is fatalistic, but has the ability to attract or reject men as she sees fit, and Ms. Garanča gave a glorious portrayal of this hedonistic gypsy. It was a strong cast, in which all the performers showed the driving determination of their characters: Barbara Frittoli was an intrepid Michaëla, singing beautifully, and Teddy Tahu Rhodes — replacing Mariusz Kwiecien at three hours notice — a stunningly handsome Escamillo who held the stage with his excellent presence. In his Act II appearance singing the toreador’s song, there was a loss of volume at a couple of points, though this may have been the microphone pick-up or the reproduction.
This Richard Eyre production was excellent — better I thought than the Covent Garden one, which I saw last October with Alagna and Garanča again in the main roles — and I very much liked the set and costume designs by Rob Howell, particularly the plain robes, with attractive slips underneath, for the cigarette girls. The dancing was excellent, Carmen keeping pace with the professional dancers in Act II, and giving a fine performance with her friends Frasquita and Mercedes in Act III. Choreography was by Christopher Wheeldon, who also inserted two pas-de-deux during the musical preludes for Acts I and III, well performed by Martin Harvey and Maria Kowroski. At the end of Act IV, after Don Jose kills his beloved, yet hated, Carmen, the stage spins round to show the bull-ring with Escamillo standing over a dead bull. This alludes to a strength and determination in Don Jose, which is rather different from the weaker character we find in other productions, giving an interesting take on the story.
The conducting by Yannick Nézet-Séguin was very well attuned to the singers, fully bringing out the excitement of the music. Altogether this was a wonderful Carmen, and I only wish I were in the audience rather than watching it on a cinema screen.