Wednesday, November 26, 2014

When Rossini Meets Fellini

Rossini’s Il Turco in Italia
Juilliard Opera
November 21, 2014

Il Turco in Italia at Julliard
From the very overture of Juilliard’s Il Turco in Italia we are introduced to Prosdocimo, a handsome and sleek author going through a creative crisis, chewing up and scattering to the wind handwritten notes and tormentedly pulling out his hair. When the curtain rises, a bright and peaceful Italian spa (terme) is unveiled, with a disparate cast of characters (nuns, priests, fancy bourgeoisie, doctors and nurses) leisurely strolling through the white marble backdrop and palm gardens and drinking water from crystal mugs. The look is late 1950s down to the last detail. Prosdocimo stands out, now donning a pair of dark sunglasses and looking more annoyed and lost as ever, making it very clear that director John Giampietro had a genius Fellini’s 8 ½-inspired take on Rossini’s Turco. Our operatic Prosdocimo as the cinematic Guido works brilliantly and effortlessly, since the original libretto already uses this character in a very meta-theatrical way as the alter ego of the composer/librettist who is stuck on his newest dramma giocoso (Ho da fare un dramma buffo / e non trovo l’argomento!) and functions throughout the opera as narrator punctuating key plot points with hilarious commentary.

Geronio complains to Prosdocimo
Photo credit: Ruby Washington/NYTimes
From the get-go Prosdocimo tells the public that he cannot find the right plot idea, some are too sappy, others are too flat (Questo ha troppo sentimento, / quello insipido mi par). This character was played by the amazing Polish baritone Szymon Komasa, who proved to be not only a strong expressive singer, with a manly smooth tone and power to match, but also an extraordinary actor with charismatic stage presence. Mr. Komasa embodied Prosdocimo with intense energy, portraying him as the puppet-master who pushes the rest of the cast to serve his plot points and enthusiastically becomes more and more pleased with himself for how the opera is playing out. Whenever Mr. Komasa was on stage, even if not singing, he was always doing something character specific, now taking notes, now coaching and coaxing some other singers on the side, now intently observing how his ideas play out.

Geronio gets his aura read by the "gypsies"
Photo credit: Ken Howard
It is Prosdocimo who introduces (and comments on) the rest of the cast to the public: there’s a group of gypsies (in this production immigrant spa-workers) among whom the beautiful and sweet Zaida sings of her lost love. Next is Fiorilla, a spitfire of a coquettish liberal wife bored after six years of marriage and flirting left and right, to the despair of her jealous older husband Geronio. At this point the author rejoices at the great opportunities offered by a dumb husband and a capricious wife (Un marito-scimunito! / Una sposa-capricciosa! / No: di meglio non si dà). The plot thickens with the arrival of Selim, a sexy and exotic Turkish prince who immediately attracts (and is attracted by) Fiorilla but also happens to be Zaida’s long lost lover. The love triangles and vignettes that gush out of this setting are extremely juicy – think of the confrontation between Geronio and Selim, where the Turkish prince tries to convince the cuckold Italian husband to go the Turkish way, where husbands simply sell off annoying wives (to which Geronio responds that in Italy it’s customary for the husband to punch the wife-buyer in the nose):

SELIM
D’un bell’uso di Turchia
forse avrai novella intesa:
della moglie che gli pesa
il marito è venditor.

GERONIO
Sarà l’uso molto buono,
ma in Italia è più bell’uso:
il marito rompe il muso
quasi sempre al comprator.

Or else consider the cat fight between Zaida and Fiorilla and the Act I finale with the two women in a bitter rivalry for the favors of Selim and calling each other all sorts of names (pettegola, civetta, frasca, sciocca, impertinente). This was one of the most hilarious scenes of the evening, when all characters try to placate the women, except for Prosdocimo who is delighted by the fight and actually incites them to hit harder (Seguitate...via...bravissime… / qua...là...bene; in questo modo… / azzuffatevi, stringetevi, / graffi...morsi...me la godo…), in this production he even teaches each of them complementary boxing moves to enhance the drama.

Fiorilla plays hard to get
Photo credit: Ken Howard
Why on earth Il Turco in Italia is not part of standard repertoire is beyond me. I personally found it way more entertaining than Il barbiere di Siviglia. Plot-wise it’s racy and not very politically correct with a stereotypical polygamous Turk on one end and a wife claiming to be on the prowl for a thousand lovers on the other, but hey all the more fun. There are no dead moments as the story moves quickly with many coups de théâtreone after the other. Despite the unpolitical correctness of much of the opera, the finale is, however, a happy one that adds a touch of a morale to the story, as Prosdocimo puts it: “poi finir con un poco di morale.” The denouement is, in fact, ultimately highly conservative. The love that is written in the stars is reconstituted between Selim and the gypsy Zaida, and the husband wins back his wife and marital bliss wins the day.

The philanderers consort
Photo credit: Ruby Washington/NYTimes
The contrast between the duets between the two potential lovers competing for the Turk’s heart are indicative of the types of love explored in the story. The sentiment of the “Io mi voglio divertir” duet that initiates the romance between Fiorilla and Selim is light hearted and selfish. All either of them want to do is have fun. That Selim ends up settling for the deeper long lost love he once had with Zaida in the duet, “Per la fuga è tutto lesto,” is paralleled to the eventual breaking down of headstrong and selfish Fiorilla whose husband has to break her of her philandering flirtatious ways in order to bring her back into the marital fold. Call it: the taming of the slut.

Fiorilla is free as a bird
Photo credit: Ken Howard
Korean soprano Hyesang Park as Fiorilla was terrific. Her role entails the most challenging and spectacular singing of the opera and Ms. Park displayed vocal agility, sheer power and sensational acting as the flirty yet ultimately repentant wife. Ms. Park’s Italian was excellent and she distilled the most coquettish tone even in recitatif when saying things like “lo zucchero e’ bastante?” (is the sugar enough? – for Selim’s coffee). She was a lot of fun to watch and impressive to hear, delivering a range that went from comic to tragic, though the comic flirty bits were the best parts, such as when she punches her husband for being a jealous bore and tells him she’ll punish him by getting a thousand lovers and by fooling around night and day (Per punirvi aver vogl’io / Mille amanti ognor d’intorno, / Far la pazza notte e giorno, / Divertirmi in libertà!), all while blowing kisses to the spa pool boys. In the scene of her deepest darkest cave in Act II, when Geronio threatens to leave her and she realizes that as a divorcée she would lose her honor, Ms. Park poured her heart out and then completely collapsed. Still on the ground after a long and well-deserved round of applause, she raised her head and bounced back belting out her next lines. The force of her re-attack here was arresting and the power of her voice, after such a long aria, was extraordinary, particularly coming from such a petite frame.

Bass-baritone Michael Sumuel was also impressive as Selim. He seemed to be the most experienced singer on stage (among other things, he sang Masetto in Lyric Opera of Chigago’s season opening Don Giovanni) and it showed.  His was the most extensive role after Fiorilla’s and he rose to the challenge singing with expressiveness, agility and great comic tempo. Selim’s duets with Fiorilla were probably the most enjoyable bel canto singing of the evening. Mezzo Kara Sainz as Zaida was pure romantic sweetness and rendered her reunion duet with her long lost love Selim particularly touching and heart wrenching. Bass Daniel Miroslaw as Geronio delivered a solid performance, with great stage presence and the right amount of slapstick fun.

Maestra Speranza Scappucci
This, our first outing at Julliard Opera, was a revelation. With the youthful, energetic and gracious Speranza Scappucci at the helm, the whole show ran like precision clockwork. It was not only impressive but also utterly entertaining and pure Rossinian exuberance. The prestigious school really showed that it is worth its salt. I’ll take another dose of these healing waters anytime.

- Lui & Lei


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A Young and Bubbly Operetta

Die Fledermaus
Johann Strauss
NY Opera Exchange
November 7, 2014 - Church of the Covenant

From the moment we took our seats, it felt like something extraordinary was happening: the average age of the public was clearly under 30, which is about 4 decades younger than the usual crowd at pretty much any opera performance in NYC, whether mainstream or indie. And it gets better: during the waltzy overture several patrons were itching to dance in their seats, swinging heads, shaking shoulders and tapping their feet, which also very unusual from the average snoozing public. The energetic crowd was not deceived as NY Opera Exchange’s Die Fledermaus turned out to be a whole lot of fun and an all around highly entertaining evening at the operetta.

This was my first “‘Maus” and I was surprised by how much I liked it. It’s truly a bubbly and lighthearted piece with terrific music and hilarious comic vignettes. Director Melissa Frey’s decision to present the piece with recitatifs in English translation and arias sung in the original German was very successful in keeping the gags alive for the non-German speaking public. While I am generally a purist when it comes to tampering with the original language of an opera, in this specific case I found NY Opera Exchange’s to be a welcome compromise between respect for the source material and approachability. Also, the original itself already had recitatif bits in English, Italian, French and Russian, representing the cosmopolitan hodge-podge of languages spoken in Vienna at the end of the XIX century. So, expanding a bit the English parts did not sound too awkward.

The plot boils down to a complicated prank to the detriment of an entitled (and a bit dense) nobleman orchestrated by a vindictive friend of his (the eponymous “bat” of the title). A broad and disparate cast of characters is somehow involved in the scheme, including the nobleman’s flirty wife, her ex-lover (an Italian tenor), a maid cum actress, an extravagant party-throwing Russian prince, a prison guard and a lousy lawyer. The director’s notes state that the action was set in Venice (instead of Vienna) and the piece got a commedia dell’arte spin. Quite honestly I did not get that much of an Italian flavor from the production but little matters as I found it highly effective in conveying the effervescent spirit of the operetta.

Rosalinde (the flirty wife) is by far the character with the most stage time and the most challenging and extensive singing. Soprano Margaret Newcomb was outstanding and the strongest singer on stage, both in her solo arias and in the numerous duets, trios and other ensemble pieces. Her acting was on point too, with a snobbish and elegant flair representing Rosalinde as a two-faced yet charming woman one cannot entirely dislike. Her husband, Gabriel von Einstein, was played by tenor Kevin Delaney, who had outstanding acting skills and great comic timing but unfortunately the strength of his singing did not match his other talents, particularly in ensemble pieces when he tended to get drowned by the orchestra and the other performers. I found Rosalinde’s old flame, Alfred, to be one of the funniest characters, delivering bits of blockbuster arias (Una furtiva lagrima, Che gelida manina, Libiamo nei lieti calici) in a parody of Italian opera that really elicited a few belly laughs. This Italian tenor was hilariously portrayed by Lindell O. Carter, who was 100% in character even in the recitatifs feigning a thick Italian accent.

Coloratura soprano Rebecca Shorstein, in the role of Adele (the ambitious maid), delivered some excellent and challenging singing although her acting was often a tad too forceful, unnecessarily pushing the envelope into the slapstick side of things. If only she toned it down a notch, she would have been perfect. Mezzo-soprano Chelsea Laggan as Prince Orlofsky was the best well-rounded performer, together with Ms. Newcomb. Hers is a pants role in which she plays an ennuied and slightly despotic aristocrat who participates in the prank with detached bemusement, all the while laying some heavy flirtation on Adele. Ms. Laggan’s voice is velvety and her singing fluid and nuanced, definitely a young artist to keep an eye on. Bass-baritone Costas Tsourakis played Dr. Falke (the mastermind behind the joke) with commanding stage presence and a deep, rich tone. Of lighter voice weight compared to Mr. Tsourakis, bass-baritone Andrew Luzania was the prison guard Frank, who displayed some pretty hilarious acting (particularly when he pretends to be a French aristocrat), not to mention during his waltzes (with real like partners as well as with a broom), and he also delivered generally solid singing.


The NY Opera Exchange orchestra is a serious sized one (45 musicians), even more so for an independent opera company. It was energetically led by conductor David Leibowitz and, with the exception of a slightly disjointed overture that I’d attribute to opening night jitters, delivered an impressive display of musical firepower, bubbly and waltzy, the way it should be. Delicious! Costumes and sets were also serious business and noteworthy for the level of polish, inventiveness and cohesion, particularly for a company of this size.

All in all, I was very impressed by the work of NY Opera Exchange that put together a seriously entertaining operetta and left us wanting for more. Next in their season is Lucia di Lammermoor and we’ll be curious to see how this young company copes with our most beloved Donizetti.

- Lei & Lui


Omar's Brainwashing (and the Death of Klinghoffer)

The Death of Klinghoffer
John Coolidge Adams
Met Opera
November 1, 2014

Photo credit: Met
“The Brainwashing of Omar” is what John Coolidge Adams’ controversial opera could have been called, at least in Tom Morris’ production of it. Omar, the youngest and most impressionable of the terrorists who hijacked the Achille Lauro cruise liner in 1984, is the glue between the first and second act. The Klinghoffers aren’t even introduced until act two. Played by the dancer Jesse Kovarsky, Omar provides not only the continuity, but he also occupies the center of the dramatic tension. His initially reluctant journey toward terrorist training and violence is recounted over a series of intensely choreographed dance interludes that are interspersed throughout the opera, which amount to many of the most exhilarating passages in the piece. He is also the glue between the sequence of three scenes in which the opera reaches its climax that this production stages so elegantly. The build up to the murder takes us from Omar approaching poor Leon Klinghoffer in his wheelchair from behind. Then we cut to an ecstatic chorus in which, according to the synopsis, “Omar remembers the day he was inspired to die for his beliefs.” 


Photo credit: Ken Howard / Met
In the next scene, our perspective has suddenly shifted, a move unprecedented in most staged entertainment. We get a cinematic reverse shot. Klinghoffer is now facing us and so Omar’s approach is now toward the audience. As theater, it was an utterly unique sequence. And bang, just like that, the deed is done. Klinghoffer dies right before us.

Photo credit: Ken Howard / Met
Photo credit: Ken Howard / Met
And so the eponymous victim of the story is not even necessarily the star of the show. The captain has the most vocal airtime and Tom Morris and his choreographer Arthur Pita privilege Omar’s trajectory through the event. But what is really striking about this opera is its ensemble cast structure. Like a Robert Altman film, before the Klinghoffers are even introduced, the international reality of the many passengers who remained on board the cruise ship during the hijacking is brought to the fore. There are several non-sequitur moments as the tensions heighten in Act I, like the Austrian woman who locked herself in her room during the whole fiasco and managed to survive on the fruit basket that happened to be in her room and the chocolates she bought as a souvenir at a previous port of call in Greece. We also get the story of a Swiss grandmother who is almost caught in the crossfire with her frightened grandson in the dining room when the terrorists first strike. Rather than focus on just one perspective, we are given a multiplicity of perspectives on the action.

Photo credit: Met
This kind of narrative experimentation is not necessarily unique in opera. One of the great things about classic operas is that you will often find multiple characters all singing their feelings, all at the same time, in multi-layered harmonies. Such experimentation is made possible in this piece by the fact that many passages of the opera are told in flashback, which to me simply does not work in opera. If a character steps up and simply declaims a long-winded story to the audience without acting it out in real time much of the emotional impact is lost. What the operatic stage demands is an immediacy of emotion and action. If you distance the music from the action, the emotions will inevitably suffer. Only by putting the singing into context are the emotions most effectively heightened.
 
Photo credit: Ken Howard / Met
So, the opera does several things that are unique to the art form. One is the fragmentary way in which the story is told. But fragmenting the story through these multiple perspectives only helps to thematize the fact that Leon Klinghoffer was killed not because he was Jewish, but because he was American. In the opera, as it seems to have been even in reality, the fact that the victim was Jewish only seems to come up tangentially, if at all. He was singled out with the Americans, Brits and Israelis because of the nationality on his passport. It was pure chance that he just also happened to be Jewish. That was beside the point for this rag-tag group of terrorists that is portrayed as little more than a gang of amateurs who kind of botch the whole thing, even though they apparently get off scot-free eventually in the end as supertitles told us after the opera as we filed out of the house at the end of the show.

Photo credit: Sarah Krulwich / New York Times
(What was with the terrorists disembarking and smiling and waving goodbye to their captives like they were saying goodbye to a group of old friends? Is this a commentary on how most of them got away with little or no punishment? As the supertitles at the end of the opera remind us?)

Photo credit: Met
The music is, nevertheless, extremely beautiful throughout, and conductor David Robertson did an excellent job in leading the Met Orchestra through a score that, for a number of reasons, is not performed very often. But still, you just can’t have people singing certain things. In the captain’s opening monologue, poor Brazilian baritone Paulo Szot has to sing awkwardly phrased abstractions like “comprehensive solitude.” What does that even mean and do people even talk like that, and if not why should they sing such multi-syllabled nonsense? I began to wonder if it wasn’t a slightly fumbled translation of something from the captain’s diary like “solitudine completa” or something to that effect, since he is after all Italian and the libretto was supposed to be based at least in part on the historical record.

Photo credit: Ken Howard / Met
With the score as beautiful as it so often is, I began to wonder why librettist Alice Goodman and even the composer in his setting of the text both insisted on going out their way to give the singers such ugly and awkward lines to sing. Is it that this is a symptom of modernity? Do we have late Verdi and Wagner to thank for giving us the gift of the sung-through opera score? Now it would seem that nobody on stage can dare open their mouth and have a something poetic to say or a melody to sing, let alone a rhetorical flourish. Instead they struggle to put two words together that even an ordinary person would speak. This was the case with last year’s Two Boys. In Klinghoffer, however, even if one of the characters does rise to the occasion and is given the musical wings to break out into poetic flights of song, the poetry somehow gets bogged down. Why is it that Mamoud’s famous bird aria (here delivered with a slight tingle of beauty by bass-baritone Aubrey Allicock) devolves into a long list of bird species? “The eagle, the falcon, / The crow, and the raven, / The sparrow, the wren, / The dove, the pigeon, / The stork, and the heron, / Alike being clean / In the sight of Heaven.” Who talks like this? Where is the poetry in such taxonomic flights of fancy? And what about Mrs. Klinghoffer prattling on about modern medicine and joints and artificial limbs? It was just weird and felt like such tangential discussions were included out of bad taste.

Photo credit: Ken Howard / Met
With all the polemic surrounding this event, one would expect the opera to delve a little deeper into the trenches. Instead much of the opera is really quite dull. Some of the captain’s loquacity is pretty useless, a bit like the distracting bits with the detective and her mother in Two Boys. I guess the ditzy British dancer serves her function as the offensive western philistine, who is pretty clueless and has none of the convictions that the terrorists or even Mr. and Mrs. Klinghoffer have, but that’s about it. She adds only minor irritation to the opera, which is a shame because at its heart are in fact human concerns of the highest order, no matter how quotidian and banal they might be expressed. There is certainly a subtle critique of the West in the mix. 

Photo credit: Tristram Kenton
And there is something to be said for the fact that the most intense, exciting and easily the most thrilling music is found in the choruses of the angry Palestinian exiles and in the solo by a Palestinian woman (mezzo-soprano Maya Lahyani) who seems to represent Omar’s alter ego in the climactic “Desert Chorus.” The opening and closing numbers of Act One are easily the most exhilarating moments in the whole piece. Otherwise, this is one of those modern operas with virtually no arias worth of such name that left me desperately craving for melody. One would expect that at least the character of Leon Klinghoffer would express some sort of tragic tension through voice but we were not so lucky: baritone Alan Opie mostly angrily declaimed his lines in an operatic voice with no real musicality to it, not even when he was about to die.

Photo credit: Dylan Martinez
Photo credit: Met
Nevertheless, the opera concludes on a somber and, for once, lyrical note and the last word is given to mezzo-soprano Michaela Martens as the mourning Mrs. Klinghoffer who is distraught but also full of regret because they didn’t pick her. She hints the fact that she herself is already afflicted with the fatal illness that would take her life just a short time later, and her husband, though wheelchair bound, nevertheless always managed against all odds to keep a great attitude about life. She was the one who should have died she says. Because this way he would not have died in vain. Because the world did not take note and his death did not make the world sit up and notice what was going on since it really elicited so little attention from the international community. She sings:

“If a hundred / People were murdered / And their blood / Flowed in the wake / Of this ship like / Oil, only then / Would the world intervene. / They should have killed me. / I wanted to die.”

Only if more people had been killed would anybody bother to notice, she sings at the end. Ultimately, this is the gift that the opera gives. It is a monument to one of the many innocent and virtually forgotten victims of a conflict that continues to rage on leaving countless unidentified and publicly unmemorialized victims like Leon Klighoffers in its wake. This is the story of one whose name will indelibly remain.

- Lui & Lei


 
Photo credit: Ken Howard / Met
Photo credit: Met
Photo credit: Met



The Taming of the Gypsy

Bizet’s Carmen
Met Opera
October 28, 2014
Photo credit: Ken Howard / Met
Tonight revisiting Carmen, I was reminded why it’s such a blockbuster. With nine hundred and ninety two performances at the Met alone, Georges Bizet’s 1875 opera is immensely and effortlessly entertaining. It features wonderful music at every turn with a variety of different themes and Spanish-tinged melodies that are always fiery and pleasant to the ear. In terms of the plot, which is linear and very easy to follow, this is not an opera of nuance – dutiful, good-boy soldier falls for beautiful, free-spirited gypsy, who (maybe) loves him back (for a bit), drags him into an adventurous life of danger as an outlaw smuggler; soldier is not really made for this, but is crazy about his gypsy, while torn by remorse for not being close to his loving mother and not behaving like a good citizen; enter hot, free-spirited torero who whisks the beautiful gypsy away; soldier goes crazy with jealousy and stabs gypsy to death.

Photo credit: Met 
Although the story may be simple, the music is complex and multi-faceted and brings different themes alive with immediacy, power and expressiveness. Often times Bizet’s score switches the musical mood several times within a single scene to emphasize the various strands that are all going on at once so that in the span of only a few minutes the tone will change from celebratory to dangerous to loving, and then back to festive, really illustrating how the unity of the plot consists of a multiplicity of ideas that all work together beautifully.

Photo credit: Met
Young, passionate and energetic, Pablo Heras-Casado is the perfect conductor for Carmen, not the least because of his obvious Spanish sensibility, particularly evident in the opening of Act IV, which musically was one of the highlights of the evening. It is a fiery and breathtaking piece of music that conjures an intensely passionate mood in preparation for the emotional climax to come in the finale. Heras-Casado kept the whole opera moving at a brisk pace, distilling every nuance of the wonderful Bizet score. He really brought it to life for me like never before and made me realize that the music may actually be the true, and certainly the most complex, protagonist here.

Photo credit: Hioryuki Ito / NYT
Georgian mezzo Anita Rachvelishvili is a force of nature, a veritable stage animal. Her acting was fierce, aggressive and sensual, as a Carmen should be and maybe even more – the intensity of her passion when initiating intercourse with Don Jose on a table caused a lot of tableware to fall to the ground (which was a realistic yet distracting effect). The rawness of her acting contrasted somehow with her singing, which was surprisingly graceful, and fluid throughout, almost nonchalant, a bit lacking in the guttural, expressive intensity that one would expect from a Carmen. She did achieve peaks of tragic passion in Act IV’s final confrontation with Don Jose, actually sending some shivers down my spine. Rachvelishvili was incredibly mobile on stage and also a great dancer, particularly in Acts II and III, where really embodied the gypsy nature of her character. This singer’s very physical stage presence was evident when we discovered her in Price Igor last year, but she was even more striking in this Bizet role that seems to have become her signature part since her La Scala debut in 2009.


Photo credit: Ken Howard / Met
Soprano Anita Hartig was an impressive Micaela, the loving good girl tending to Don Jose’s sick mother. Her character is Gilda-like and Hartig conveyed it with an angelic purity and innocence while at the same time soaring and effortlessly filling the space more than any of her other colleagues on stage. She left me wanting to hear more from her and I will look forward to seeing her again in a leading role in the future. Bass Ildar Abdrazakov exuded charisma as Escamillo. His entrance in Act II was a showstopper and a pleasure for the eyes and the ears alike. No wonder Carmen dumps that moping Don Jose for this sexy toreador, really a no brainer, especially when Abdrazakov is singing the role! Tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko as Don Jose was passable once he warmed up a bit and as long as he avoided high notes. I am just not crazy about the sound of his voice, particularly in the higher register. Though his sound can be grating on the ears, when he is in the young, naive and in love stage of his early character development, he was easier to palate, especially in the last two acts of the opera when he grows more jaded and angry at the world.

Photo credit: Ken Howard / Met
Frasquita and Mercedes may be minor roles but Kiri Deonarine and Jennifer Johnson Cano did an excellent job in bringing these two gypsies to life with verve and lightheartedness, while at the same time being vocally very strong and displaying great acting skills, they both left me wishing to see more from their characters. The Met’s chorus was as usual excellent, with a special mention for the kids’ section that was particularly delightful and fresh.

Photo credit: Beatriz Schiller
Photo credit: Ken Howard / Met
Rob Howell’s sets were essential and raw, with a circular crumbly stone-like structure serving as backbone for most of the opera, complemented by gates surrounding the square (Act I), Pastia’s bar and dance floor (Act II), mountainous elements (Act III) and the street outside the plaza de toros (Act IV). The simple decadence of the sets made them somehow a-temporal in a very refreshing way. It seems like one of director Richard Eyre’s signature moves is to imbue his overtures with a little does of stage action (think of this year’s Nozze). Here he chose to have each act’s overture/prelude punctuated by a couple of dancers performing the different stages of Carmen and Don Jose’s love story, which was a nice touch, particularly with red lighting that emphasized the violence and passion flowing through the opera. The direction was all in all pretty straightforward, with some particularly effective ideas in Act IV. The parallel between Carmen as a force of nature who needs taming and the bull whom matador arrives in the parade to strike down is really pounded into the audience full force in this production:

C’est l’Espada, la fine lame,
celui qui vient terminer tout,
qui paraît à la fin du drame
et qui frappe le dernier coup!



As Escamillo enters in full regalia on his way to the bullring, the chorus sings a metatextual reflection of what happens in the final seconds of the drama. And the last image Eyre leaves us with is a split-frame glimpse of the corpse of Carmen on one side of the stage and her virtual mirror image in the cadaver of the bull that is revealed once the circular stage spins open and the bullring after the bullfight is brought into view. Like the sacrificial bull, Carmen has been laid low, her carefree toying with men’s emotions has back to haunt her. And the story spins full circle.

- Lei & Lui
Photo credit: Ken Howard / Met
Photo credit: Met  
Photo credit: Ken Howard / Met
Photo credit: Ken Howard / Met
Photo credit: Ken Howard / Met
Photo credit: Met