Bizet: Carmen; plus interviews with John Eliot Gardiner, Jérôme Deschamps and Agnès Terrier

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

WORKS: Carmen; plus interviews with John Eliot Gardiner, Jérôme Deschamps and Agnès Terrier
PERFORMER: Anna Caterina Antonacci, Andrew Richards, Anne-Catherine Gillet, Nicolas Cavallier, Virginie Pochon, Annie Gill, Matthew Brook, Riccardo Novaro; The Monteverdi Choir; Maîtrise des Hauts-de-Seine; Orchéstre Révolutionnaire et Romantique/John Eliot Gardiner; dir. Adrian Noble (Paris, 2009)


Hard on the heels of the Met Carmen comes this intimate Paris Opéra-Comique production, recalling its premiere in the company’s old house. Significantly the sleeve names moving spirits John Eliot Gardiner, producer Adrian Noble, orchestra and chorus – but only one singer, Anna Caterina Antonacci.

She dominates the cast entirely – less carnivorous and more complex than on Covent Garden’s DVD, singing with a lighter, more nuanced touch. Andrew Richards’s José, initially pallid and unromantic, warms up impressively but remains the lesser figure, as does Nicholas Cavalier’s soft-centred Escamillo, despite his native French. Anne-Catherine Gillet, though, makes an idiomatic Micaela, and the Francophone gypsy girls and smugglers gain a zip which the British-cast lesser roles lack. 

Gardiner’s is a crisply intense reading, occasionally rushing Bizet’s bravura passages, but taking us back to the opera’s dramatic core. The darker period instrument tones are echoed in Mark Thompson’s unit set, a stylized corrida in plain wood, lit smoky and copper-red, revealing Act I’s cigar factory in a coppery mirror.


Costumes, too, are more-or-less period, the action naturalistic with bouts of stylisation. It wouldn’t raise British or US eyebrows, but the novelty of a staging that serves a work, rather than overloading it with interpretative concepts, seems to have delighted Parisian audiences. On DVD, though, one misses a more balanced cast – but Antonacci is still a knockout. Michael Scott Rohan