Bizet's Carmen gives tired opera another chance
 

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posted Friday, September 3, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 36

Bizet's Carmen gives tired opera another chance
by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

Very seldom does a performance come along that essentially re-writes the book for me about an opera I've seen too many times. This DVD/BD of Bizet's Carmen is just such an experience.

While Bizet's music is a constant wonder of melodic invention and a delight to listen to, I don't usually enjoy seeing this opera. The story - while certainly dramatic - of Don José's obsession with Carmen is not only a downer; it bores me. It is a sickness that is no more interesting than alcoholism.

But wait! What if the tenor agrees with me and can convince us that, from the moment Carmen's flower hits him, he is truly infected with a madness he can't escape? What if that tenor has eyes you want to swim in? What if he makes you care so much that, for once, you suffer along with him every step of the way into his madness?

Such a tenor is Jonas Kaufmann! He's sublimely sexy. He is totally convincing. And his singing could hardly be more exciting. By the last scene, in which he stabs Carmen, he's not just a jealous lover; he is a madman. Never over-acting, Kaufmann takes us inside his character with an intimacy that is frightening. This is as far from boring as it gets!

Kaufmann is such a revelation that he alone would justify seeing this live show on this DVD/BD. But this is one of those rare miracles in which absolutely every element is as close to perfection as you'll ever find. Both the sound and video are state-of-the-art, and the camera work couldn't be better.

Director Francesca Zambello not only gets totally committed acting from her principals; you'd swear every chorister and extra had had individual coaching and knew how to make the most out of it. There's simply not a boring moment in this entire performance. Appropriate and imaginative ideas fill every scene.

Adding to the excitement is the lively, exhilarating conducting of Antonio Pappano. Indeed, the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House (Covent Garden) sounds fabulous in this great score.

Nor are we let down by our Escamillo. He enters on a stunning black stallion and sings his "Toreado Song" on horseback. Escamillo must be sexy, almost more than knowing how to sing, and Ildebrando D'Archangelo more than fills the bill. No slouch as an actor, he also sings up a fiery seduction of everyone in the room.

At the other end of the sexy spectrum is the simple country girl, and Jose's intended girlfriend, Micaëla, sung here by the excellent Norah Amsellem. No less fine are all the smaller parts. There's not a weak link anywhere.

And what of the Carmen? Anna Caterina Antonacci does not have the great flood of gorgeous sound we hear from Rise Stevens, nor is the voice as big and beautiful as Garanca's (on this year's Live in HD from the Met). But she sings extremely well with the fine instrument she has, and no Carmen could look or act the part better. In short, she more than holds her own in this amazing show.

If you're a penny pincher like me, but still need to buy this Blu-Ray or DVD, you'll find the best deal not from Amazon, but on the Amazon.com website. When you find the disc, click on the "new and used" button. You will get a better price and with no sales tax, plus a modest shipping charge.

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu.



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