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Subject: Covent Garden's Curious Carmen
From: Stephen Charitan <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Stephen Charitan <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Thu, 8 Mar 2018 17:24:59 -0500

text/plain (70 lines)

Covent Garden's new, Frankfurt based production of Carmen proves this opera
can survive just about anything perpetrated on it if The Lady at the center
of it all is in command.  The Lady in question, Gaèlle Arquez, got into and
under Carmen's skin turning the directorial nonsense swirling around her
into nothing more than an occasional annoyance .  Her's is a light, soprano
tinted mezzo with plenty of carrying punch.  From the 6th row of the
Stalls, she was a pleasure to behold and the defiance and cynicism in her
expressions made her as much an avatar of independence as one of seduction.
In short, this audience member (as well as an enthusiastic house) fell
completely under her spell.   Needless to say, her French was impeccable
bringing linguistic prowess to her physical and vocal allure.  Apparently
she is scheduled to make her MET debut.

Her Jose, Andrea Carè looked the part and acted with intensity, but the
voice was perhaps one size too small for the obsessive emotional weight he
has to carry.  Alexey Markov, always a pleasure to encounter, was a
charismatic Escamillo, while Susanna Hurrell brought a somewhat hard
edged soprano to Micaela.  In a particularly offensive bit of directorial
provocation, she writhed around in a masturbatory fantasy during her third
act aria.  At this point in "Regieland"  these sorts of "accretions" have
become hopelessly jejune.

Director Barrie Kosky decided "Carmen" was a series of acts you might
encounter in a Weimar Cabaret.  There was the usual white faced make up on
much of the chorus and irrelevant dance gyrations during Bizet's glorious
Act 3 Entr'acte - all eminently discardable.

For sets, or should I say a "set" we got steps -  the "bad boy" director /
designer's  concession to budget control.  With a Carmen like Arquez center
stage this tired convention hardly mattered - she shouldered both the
character and the drama irrespective of her physical surroundings.

As to the performing edition, we didn't have Giraud's recitatives, nor did
we have the "Comique" dialogue.  Instead we had a sultry voiced narrator
(in French) filling in details between the sung parts.  It was a silly
choice and only served to distance the singers from their characters.  A
sort of vaudeville turn was added for Morales expounding on the people
passing by, as well as an alternative "Habanera" for Carmen.  Both sounded
like warmed over Offenbach and proved they each earned their place on the
cutting room floor.

If my overall assessment seems to lean negative, that would be a false
impression.  Arquez might just be the most "complete" Carmen I've
experienced on stage in over 40 years of opera going.  The Covent Garden
orchestral and choral forces are top notch, and while the added music was
not up to Bizet's standard, it was interesting to hear what was later

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