Christine Rice stars in Bizet’s Carmen

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Georges Bizet
LABELS: Opus Arte
WORKS: Carmen
PERFORMER: Christine Rice, Bryan Hymel, Aris Argiris, Maija Kovalevska; Chorus & Orchestra of the Royal Opera House/Constantinos Carydis; dir. Francesca Zambello (London, 2011)
CATALOGUE NO: Opus Arte DVD: OA1197D; Blu-ray: OABD7188D


The label quotes a review asserting that Francesca Zambello’s production ‘lends itself especially well to film’. I can’t altogether agree. The production’s first DVD recording was shadowy, atmospheric, turbulent and galvanised by Antonio Pappano’s conducting but still ultimately somewhat stagy. This second version, filmed in 3D and now re-released in 2D, seems much less lively and yet more contrived. Some of this listless air stems from Constantinos Carydis’s uninspiring conducting, still more from the substantial and overdone restaging for 3D. The high-resolution image is amazing, but its harsher lighting, showy camera angles, backstage shots and emptier stage draw undue attention to the fixed elements of the set and marked-out floor, particularly in Act I and the corrida; Lillas Pastia and the smuggler’s camp retain rather more atmosphere. There’s ample spectacle – low-lifes, cigarette girls, priests, shrines, toreros, overflowing cleavages, coy toplessness, acrobats, donkeys, horses, chickens even – but the hard-working chorus never really recaptures the original’s edgy vitality. Nor, alas, do the principals.

Christine Rice sings a splendid Carmen, with rich, sour-sweet lower register, but her energetically sexy acting still looks calculated next to the sultry Anna Caterina Antonacci in the Pappano version. Bryan Hymel sounds lyrical, occasionally slightly reedy, but surprisingly lacks the vocal colour, physical ardour and almost masochistic passion Jonas Kaufmann brought to Don José. Maija Kovalevska’s statuesque Micaëla seems undercharacterised. Aris Argiris has plenty of vocal swagger for Escamillo, but fails to contrast his song’s bravura and lyrical passages. All, except perhaps him, sing French fluently enough, but their poorly spoken dialogue doesn’t help. Zuniga seems sadly unmenacing and the smugglers don’t quite match their Francophone predecessors. So the earlier DVD of this staging remains preferable, and there are many excellent alternatives, notably the Opera Comique’s and the Francesco Rosi film.


Michael Scott Rohan