There’s no shortage of good filmed versions of Carmen and one of the best, from Covent Garden, like this one, is on Decca and stars Jonas Kaufmann. But that earlier version also in Anna Caterina Antonacci features a Carmen a great deal more convincing than Vesselina Kasarova. The Bulgarian mezzo is a charismatic singer but her fruity, characterful mezzo has increasingly become something of an acquired taste (this performance was filmed as far back as 2008). Here, dressed as a ’50s housewife, she turns in a performance that is never convincing: her seductiveness is bizarrely forced and aggressive; her singing is lumpy and full of scrunching gear changes.
No one, though, is helped by a tepid production that never seems to settle. We could be anywhere in the second half of the 20th century. Volker Hintermeier’s set is largely simple, featuring minimal scenery on a circular platform that keeps the action penned in. The work is performed with the Guiraud recitative but several of Hartmann’s touches seem to want to emphasise its opéra comique heritage: a model dog with mechanical tail downstage in Act 1 is but one not-so-comique miscalculation in this regard. Much of the rest of it has a strangely jolly, amateurish feel to it, the over-directed, unnatural-feeling crowd scenes in particular.
Kaufmann’s Don José is held back by an unconvincing characterisation that sees him having to turn from shy, bespectacled nerd into murderer. He sings magnificently, though, despite some moments of self-indulgence, and throws everything into the final scene. Michele Pertusi’s Escamillo is physically imposing but the voice lacks swagger. Isabel Rey presents a rather mature, slightly predatory Micaëla, her voice short on lyrical flexibility and bloom.
Franz Welser-Möst conducts with little warmth or sensuousness, marching far too efficiently through much of the faster music. For something updated, I’d stick with Béatrice Uria-Monzon and Roberto Alagna in Calixto Bieito’s infinitely edgier, sexier Barcelona production; for something more traditional, the Royal Opera’s version remains a safe bet.