Maria Ewing has starred in at least three versions of Bizet's Carmen. Her 1985 performance, from Glyndebourne, was what originally turned me on to opera. To be honest, it turned me on to Maria Ewing and, through her, to opera. The irony is that I cannot stand this opera any more. I am not even sure if I would call it an opera; it is much more like a Hollywood musical. Bizet's influence seems to have been felt much more by composers and librettists such as Gershwin, Bernstein and Hammerstein rather than 20th century opera composers.
Carmen has certainly been good to Maria Ewing. In this 1989 production from Covent Garden she combines sensuousness and volatility in a way that is thrilling and frightening. This production is to be preferred to the 1985 film because Luis Lima is a more effective Don Jose. Ewing and Lima are particularly effective together in the short, final act which is the only part of the opera that is through-composed without any spoken dialogue. It's as if Bizet was learning his craft and finally cracked how to do it in this final act. It's a pity he died three months later.
Ewing's 1999 version, filmed at London's Earl's Court, is a bit of a circus. Bizet purists will hate it because it uses Guiraud's recitatives instead of the spoken dialogue. To me, that is a big plus. The singers are miked in this performance; experienced on film, the sound is quite effective, with some of the ensemble singing coming over more clearly than in an acoustic performance.
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