The venue provides more impact upon an audience than the performance with this 1998 filming of Bizet's great opera, a DVD issue that, although purportedly rich in sound technique, does not marry such to the actual recording. This particularly colourful rendition of Carmen is performed upon what likely is the grandest open-air stage that Europe offers, within the Roman quarry at St. Margarethen, Austria, a home site for passion plays each five years since 1926, the basin's over 40 metre high walls providing acoustical pleasure to those who celebrate bright sound realisations of musical theatre such as this one enacted during the locale's annual operatic festival. Director Gianfranco de Bosio, erstwhile pilot of the Verona Festival that, along with the presentations at Bregenz, are the sole outdoor operatic events that currently attract larger audiences than those at St. Margarethen, gathers as is his wont a large international ensemble that executes viscerally satisfying effects and interludes that are referent to traditions of commedia dell'arte that de Bosio favours, including choral offerings by the voices of the Stagione d'Opera Italiana and Honved-Ensemble Budapest, in addition to dancers from MHS Rosenthal Eisenstadt and Flamenco Tanztheater Barcelona. This performance was received well and is a prime reason that the Festival has become a cardinal cultural event in Continental Europe, with De Bosio's idiosyncratic staging of Bizet's dramatic masterpiece largely responsible for its success at St. Margarethen, as he cannily maneuvers over 400 performers (and a contingent of horses!) although the opera interpretation itself is only patchily pleasing. Musically, Malgorzata Walewska is comfortable in the role of Carmen, and her able acting is of merit, making up this night for a rather light mezzo, while the closest to a star performance comes from lyric tenor Mario Malagnini as Don José, a role that he has taken on more than any other, and whereas there are moments when it would appear that he is acting by rote, his intonation is always splendid, his enunciation impeccable. Boaz Senator as the toreador Escamillo initially has some breath difficulty that he overcomes but his playing is wooden throughout as is that of Ulrike Sonntag as Micaela; she, however, is in excellent voice, with but a single clinker. A majority of the supporting cast sings capably, with Susanna Fülöp a standout as Frasquita. The Stagione d'Opera Italiana orchestra is led wonderfully well by Giorgio Croci in the many thrilling passages by Bizet, and lighting is dramatically effective as is most of a wide range of costumes, despite an uncomfortable fact that those garments worn by Walewska, beautiful in themselves, are less than complimentary to her. This is the abridged version of the opera that utilizes recitatives, amended many times since the originals by Bizet's friend Guiraud that have served in lieu of the composer's dialogue, but additionally there are numerous idiosyncratic alterations to the libretto while entire richly musical sequences have regrettably been excised from this shortened performance. The DVD is not a model for others to follow, as it is found wanting in several areas. Promised extras upon the package are a "Making Of" clip, interviews, and a synopsis in six languages, none of which is present. There is a brief documentary upon Bizet's composition of Carmen and its first performance, in German with English narration, but it is of minimal consequence. A sound choice is supposedly offered between Dolby 5.1 and stereo, but in fact they are the same, and distortion is present in the overture. In summation, an audience must essentially rely for pleasure here upon the well-beloved music of Bizet along with glimpses of de Bosio's elaborate stagecraft and these are surely enough to warrant a repeat showing.
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