Bizet Carmen – Nézet-Séguin
Here is an opera DVD where, rare in my experience, each individual element matches the excellence of the others: production, cast, performance, film direction and use of the medium. Richard Eyre’s Carmen, replacing Franco Zeffirelli’s clunking 1996 production, updates the action from the 1830s to the repressive era of the Spanish Civil War. In doing so he brings a contemporary relevance and psychological credibility to this soap opera with its colourful music and cast of low-life characters. “Host” Renée Fleming is backstage to welcome us to the opera house and introduce proceedings before we cut(a nice touch, this) to the stage manager giving the conductor his call to come tothe pit. The conductor is the young Canadian Yannick Nézet-Séguin makinghis Met debut. We had better get usedto spelling and pronouncing his name because we are going to hear it a lot inthe future.
It’s often said that if you get the casting right, you’re 90 per cent home and dry. Elīna Garanca is a natural choice for Carmen (voice and acting, that is – her natural blonde is disguised by a black wig). She certainly has the personality for the part, sensual, seductively sung but with an underlying chilly hauteur. Don José is far too desperate for her affections ever to mount a successful campaign. Garanca has a fine sparring partner in Roberto Alagna – both roles are as well acted as they are sung – and if Alagna shows some signs of strain at the top of his range he manages the pianissimo B flat at the end of “Le fleur que tu m’avais jetée” with no problem. Barbara Frittoli presents a feisty Micaëla, though some may find her wide vibrato too much on occasion. Teddy Tahu Rhodes is a physically commanding and vocally secure Escamillo. Gary Halvorson’s fluent direction conveys a real sense of occasion to the whole evening which ends with a sensational coup de théâtre.