Carmen: operas make great movies

February 5, 2010 at 6:43 pm (Film and television, Music, opera)

Do they ever. The close-ups alone are worth the price of admission – especially when they’re  close-ups of Elina Garanca.

In addition to having a terrific voice, this supremely gifted mezzo-soprano is a great actress, a beautiful woman – and she can dance!   I’ve seen this opera several times in years past; as of Wednesday night, Garanca is my favorite Carmen. Boy can she smolder! It was an amazing performance. And just as amazing was tenor Roberto Alagna as Don Jose.

Here, Elina Garanca sings the Gypsy Song in concert:

In this video, also a concert performance, Roberto Alagna sings “La fleur que tu m’avais jetee” (“The flower that you tossed my way”). In this aria, Don Jose pours out his love for Carmen. It is a doomed, obsessive love that can only lead to the destruction of them both:

This is a new production of the opera, and I was afraid that it might be “sexed up.” They tried this with Tosca, and the effect, in my opinion, was not edifying. But though this was a very sensual Carmen, it was not over-the-top explicit.

In addition to Elina Garanca and Roberto Alagna, Italian soprano Barbara Frittoli imparted great poignancy to the role of the long-suffering well-meaning Micaela. And genial New Zealander Teddy Tahu Rhodes (interviewed during the intermission by Renee Fleming) took over the role of Escamillo the toreador with some three hours’ notice on the day of the matinee!

Barbara Frittoli

Teddy Tahu Rhodes

I’d forgotten about the delightful children’s chorus. This rather endearing video form the San Jose Opera will give you some sense of it:

In addition to commissioning new productions and bringing the Met online for the new century, general manager Peter Gelb is putting ballet back into opera and using today’s top choreographers in the process. The dance segments for  this production of Carmen were choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon.

I admit I was not initially enthusiastic about going to see this opera. I had a snobbish attitude – didn’t I already know all the tunes, the plot, etc.? I stand corrected. There was much I did not recall from previous performances. And of course, any truly insightful production, whether of a play or an opera, will contain new revelations about the work. I had that very gratifying experience Wednesday night.

According to Steve Cohen of The Opera Critic, this film broke box office records. It’s no wonder. Before I had the chance to see it, a number of  people had already told me how terrific it was. Even though the performance I attended was an encore, as opposed to a live, presentation, the theater was packed. (High culture still lives, here in the U.S. – YES!!)

Wikipedia has a wonderfully comprehensive entry on Carmen.

Here’s a promotional video from the Royal Opera – a different cast and different production, but enticing all the same:

Bizet’s music is a roiling mixture, at times exhilarating; at other times, doom-laden. I can’t get it out of my head, nor do I want to. Carmen is this composer’s most famous work, but he has written so much more, and just as beautiful. Here is the duet “Au fond du temple saint,” from Les Pecheurs de Perles (the Pearl Fishers), sung by Roberto Alagna (slight of build but vocally prodigious) and Bryn Terfel (both physically and vocally prodigious):

And here is the Farandole from L’Arlesienne, Suite Number Two. Just listen to the way that the accumulated force of the music blazes  forth in a kind of frenzy at the end – I love it!

(Played by Die Deutsch-Niederländische KammerPhilharmonie, Otis Klober conducting)

Like so many of our great composers, Georges Bizet died young, having suffered a fatal heart attack at the age of 36. He is interred in Paris’s famed Pere Lachaise cemetery.

Georges Bizet: 1838 - 1875


Click here for information about the Metropolitan Opera’s HD broadcasts. Be sure and watch the spectacular trailer; the music you’ll hear is from Turandot by Giacomo Puccini.

1 Comment

  1. Joyce said,

    Thanks for your wonderful review. We missed Carmen in HD but hope they will show it later this year on Great Performances on public TV.

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