Anita Rachvelishvili as "Carmen"
(photo: Metropolitan Opera)
Widely known (even among those who aren’t opera buffs) for its famous “Toreador” aria, Bizet’s “Carmen” is a much-beloved favorite of many fans, typically listed among everyone’s top five operas. This is despite the fact that the titular heroine isn’t a particularly nice or even sympathetic character. In the current Metropolitan Opera production, Georgian mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili plays the flirtatious Carmen. The story revolves around her relationships with the solid soldier Don José (tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko) and torrid bullfighting hero Escamillo (baritone Ildar Abdrazakov), with some plot points delivered by the village girl Michaëla (soprano Anita Hartig). Ms. Rachvelishvili has virtually made a career of late playing her interpretation of Carmen at opera houses throughout the world (including two seasons ago, in this same production, at the Met).
As most music lovers will know, the libretto is a rather steamy one, from the first appearance of the gypsy girl Carmen. Virtually ignored by Don José (who loves Michaëla) until he arrests Carmen for fighting, she seduces him to gain her freedom. Subsequently she declares he must prove his love by deserting the army, which he does. Later in the gypsy camp, her ardor diminishes as she now professes love for the toreador Escamillo. Michaë la arrives to tell Don José his mother is dying, and they depart together, Don José threatening he will see Carmen again. In the final scene Don José confronts Carmen, trying to win her back, but when he fails…well, this is opera, so one wouldn’t be surprised if it doesn’t end happily. And that’s the tempestuous tale, told over four acts. For this opera to be so popular with such a simplistic story, there must obviously be some approachable music, and indeed there is. The success of a production of “Carmen”, as with many operatic works, thus largely depends on the quality of the singing and conducting, not necessarily on how deeply involved an audience is on an emotional level.
In this production, though, there’s enough fire and passion in the singing and acting to involve an audience, despite the somber and stark sets and costumes. Rachvelishvili and her three co-stars make this more than a mere potboiler, with Hartig a standout. It must be said, however, in these days of close-ups and operatic verisimilitude, that only Hartig looked the part. The performances by the rest of the cast were fine, including the roles of Moralès (John Moore), Zuniga (Keith Miller), Frasquita (Kiri Deonarine) Mercédès (Jennifer Johnson Cano), Le Dancaïre (Malcolm Mackenzie) and Le Remendado (Eduardo Valdes). Between each act there was an appropriately sultry pas de deux performed by Maria Kowroski and Martin Harvey. Visually, the production moved well under the able direction (of this Live in HD broadcast) of Matthew Diamond, with sensitive conducting by Pablo Heras-Casado. The Production was by Richard Eyre, with Set & Costume Design by Rob Howell, Lighting Design by Peter Mumford, and Choreography by Christopher Wheeldon.
Never fear if you missed this “Carmen”; as noted above, the encore broadcast of the performance will take place Wednesday November 5th at 6:30pm at a theater near you.