PERFORMER: Elina GaranΩa, Roberto Alagna, Barbara Frittolii, Teddy Tahu Rhodes, Elizabeth Caballero, Sandra Piques Eddy, Trevor Scheunemann, Keith Miller, Earle Patriarco, Keith Jameson; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra & Chorus/Yannick Nézet-Séguin; dir. Richard Eyre (New York, 2010)
CATALOGUE NO: 073 4581
The Met’s last Carmen was a typically overpowering Zeffirelli spectacle. Here, distinguished British producer Richard Eyre updates the action to the less colourful 1930s, while outdoor scenes are cramped by the set’s revolving masonry, so we can’t see processions, although the tavern’s vast; recitatives replace dialogue, ballet illustrates the interludes.
His approach works, nevertheless – not least because conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the Philadelphia Orchestra’s new principal, evokes Bizet’s colour and vitality so vibrantly. Eyre leaves the ambience to him and concentrates on character; everyone on stage, from stars to comprimarios and children (authentically underfoot), crackles with individual life, ideal on video.
This approach, of course, centres on a strong Carmen. Elina GaranΩa’s clean-cut Baltic mezzo and fresh good looks suggest not the stereotypical gypsy wench, but a free spirit, intelligent and wilful, her apparently capricious sexuality a declaration of independence – the rock on which José breaks.
Roberto Alagna, admirably lyrical even with moments of strain, plays him as an amiable naïf totally bewildered by the ferocious passions she awakens. Teddy Tahu Rhodes’s saturnine Escamillo, if not the richest vocally, rightly suggests that for all the flash, he’s actually the better man.
Barbara Frittoli’s Michaela avoids melodrama; Keith Miller’s robust Zuniga, acting like a cousin of Ming the Merciless, doesn’t entirely. Meanwhile, Caballero (Frasquita) and Eddy (Mercedes) are endearingly louche – the usually clownish smugglers realistically vicious thugs.
I welcomed last year’s Covent Garden video with Jonas Kaufmann, alongside other recommendations, particularly the superb Rosi film and Maria Ewing’s Earls Court spectacular; but this one outclasses it at bargain price. Michael Scott Rohan