Not for all tastes, but the superb leads and music make it well worth watching
Carmen is one of my favourite operas and always has been. This 2006 production is quite interesting, though understandably not for all tastes. Those looking for a visually authentic production and fidelity to the libretto may want to look elsewhere like the 1984 and 1967 films. Those wanting superb leads and music will find much to enjoy. Of the many Carmens I've seen, this one is the darkest. And I don't just mean visually, with the dark austere updated backdrop. It is also the darkest dramatically as well, there is a higher body count than usual(in fact all four leads die here) and the whole production is like a flashback starting with Don Jose's on-stage execution. I personally would have preferred a more authentic look to it, but I did find this very interesting.
Bizet's music is just magnificent, and the orchestra play with Spanish flavour, and while I've found him much more enigmatic in the pit before Daniel Barenboim gives a very boisterous reading indeed. The chorus are strong, and the leads are fabulous. Alexander Vinogradov is intelligent and dapper as Escamillo, different to the more confident with plenty of swagger approach that I normally see, and has a good voice but I couldn't help thinking how young he looks, almost like a teenager. Norah Ansellem is a very convincing Micaela and gives real credibility to a I feel a flat character. Her singing is expressive if a tad too heavy on the vibrato. Frasquita, Mercedes, Morales and Zuniga are solid.
However, it is Marina Domaschenko and Rolando Villazon that really captivate. Domaschenko is incredible as Carmen, vocally dark and beautiful, and very compelling and seductive. Seeing and hearing her here and you'd completely understand why Don Jose fell in love with her in the first place. In this production, to my surprise and in some ways delight, Don Jose is the most well-drawn out character. Essentially here he is a desperate maniac, but there is a sympathetic quality as well. Villazon identifies completely with the role, the way the character is interpreted fits well with his hyper-energetic stage presence, but what makes Villazon so good here is that while the role plays to his strengths rather than another role that could be deemed too heavy for him(ie. Don Carlo), he doesn't look frenzied or sound over tensed.
All in all, there will be people who will dislike this production and understandably but I enjoyed it for the leads and one of the stronger depictions of Don Jose I've seen in the past twenty five years or so. 8/10 Bethany Cox
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