Carmen – Bizet – Royal Opera House
Nine months ago I reported on the opening of Barry Kosky’s new take on Carmen. It was unlike anything seen before at the ROH and at many times was visually stunning. However, the problem is that despite some stunning scenes, including a 20 foot black dress train (both long and wide!) for Carmen in the final Act, the production overall lacks warmth in the heat of the Spanish sun and indeed it is cold in its interaction between principals. The constant streaming across the stage steps by principals and chorus does not add to the village or factory atmosphere, as was required by Bizet. However interesting the production appeared to be, it was in fact the collage of the scenes that provided the interest, rather than the visual impact throughout the evening.
The spoken monologue by Claude de Demo, who was the voice of Carmen, was adapted by Kosky from the writings of Meilhac, Halevy and Merimee. Kosky also used musical material written by Bizet, but rarely performed. There are many different views as to which version of Bizet’s Carmen best expresses his intent, but Kosky’s production is unique in using musical material not included in its premiere, particularly the provocative Habanera in Act 1 and the final part of Act 4.
The original Carmen of Ksenia Dudnikova cancelled due to illness and the role was taken by the outstanding French mezzo soprano, Gaelle Arquez. It did not help that in her first entrance the Carmen was dressed as a gorilla, having to be helped by other cast members to remove this costume as she sang her opening aria. Direction gone mad! But she provided a smouldering interpretation of Carmen’s role, always seemingly one step ahead of her Don Jose, sung by the American tenor, Brian Jagde. His isn’t the most substantial of tenor sounds, but he looks the part and provides a movingly subtle portrayal of his role, particularly in the 4th Act.
The Escamillo of Alexander Vinogradov was well voiced, but somewhat underwhelming. Perhaps the voice of the night came from the Micaela of the Italian soprano, Eleonora Buratto, whose silky but substantial sound was exactly what we hoped to hear from this role.
A word too here, particularly for the chorus, who were outstanding all night, running up and down the stairs and interacting with the outstanding dancers, who Kosky introduced instead of soldiers. They certainly weren’t soldiers, but if you liked the mixture of dance and opera they provided outstanding entertainment and excitement.
Musically the evening was controlled by the Canadian Conductor, Keri-Lynn Wilson, who has performed so well more recently at ENO. She started the evening at incredible pace and sustained the musical intensity throughout the evening. A hard act to follow, specifically as she also seemed to sing every note during the whole three hours of operatic music.
A very different night and much to think about.