Met revives Bizet's Carmen

Metropolitan Opera’s Carmen heats up the stage in HD.

Perhaps it was my grandmother who said, and I quote, “A watched pot never boils.” Or maybe it was someone else’s grandmother. Ignoring this wisdom, I kept watching Thursday’s performance of Carmen at the Met, waiting for something to happen. I wasn't remotely hot.

The great Emma Calvé as Carmen, who did not sing this night

The great Emma Calvé as Carmen, who did not sing this night

Certainly conductor Pablo Heras-Casado was doing his best to heat things up. From the first bold chords of the prelude, his reading of Bizet’s wonderful score is vigorous and exciting, lyric when necessary, and always cleanly articulated. Excellent throughout.

And soprano Anna Hartig as Don José’s innocent love Micaëla is pretty hot from the moment she steps on stage in Act 1. The soldiers on duty that day obviously think so. Her unwavering sympathy and gentle love for José is kept to the fore. Remarkable for its overall beauty, Hartig’s voice is ample in size when necessary, as in her aria in Act 3.

Don José, sung on this evening by Brandon Jovanovich, replacing an indisposed Aleksandrs Antonenko, was another matter. He seemed a bit uncertain at first and his voice was not yet warm or focused. Likewise, Anita Rachvelishvili, as Carmen, wasn’t warm vocally at first either. Their first encounter in Act 1 lacked the necessary fatality.

But, pace Nana, these two were really cookin’ by the opera’s tragic ending. Jovanovich settled into an appealing essay of La fleur que tu m’avais jetée in Act 2, complete with a soft piano conclusion, and had achieved a more comfortable fit into Don José’s misery and desperation. About the same time Rachvelishvili found the upper edge of her powerful voice. The duo’s final encounter in Act 4 was a gripping visceral experience, well worth the watch. Bravi!

Massimo Cavalletti’s Escamillo was rich in his overall sound, bold in his stage presence, but weak in his articulation of the text.

Originally written for the Opéra Comique in Paris, Carmen offers an interesting mix of light and dark. Ironically, the bandits and their babes are the funny ones, more out of an Offenbach operetta. Carmen’s girlfriends Frasquita and Mércèdes, sung by Kiri Deonarine and Jennifer Johnson Cano respectively, are as charming and delightful as their music. Well, Le Dancaïre, le chef du bandits, sung by Malcolm MacKenzie, adds a touch of menace by appearing to set Zuniga on fire before the band takes to the hills. That’s not funny at all. Scott Scully sang Le Remendado, replacing Eduardo Valdes.

The smaller roles of the soldiers were uniformly well taken. Keith Miller is a virile Zuniga, John Moore as Moralès is on duty at the opening curtain, as are the others on the first watch. The solo dancers Maria Kowroski and Martin Harvey are lovely to watch, though the lovely prelude to Act 3 always seems out of place for what’s to follow.

Sir Richard Eyre’s conception of Carmen is notable for its constant motion. Similar to this season’s winning Figaro, the sets by designer Rob Howell are tall concentric structures, which allow for the elimination of two intermissions, thus making the only break between Acts 2 and 3 (as written). But I’m still not sure why the factory ladies need to emerge from below stage for their entrance. There is no mention of a subway stop in the libretto.

Review performance date: October 23, 2014.

Make it special. JRS