Feature

Opera: Carmen

Richard Eyre's successful reimagining of <em>Carmen </em>was a risky undertaking given the reaction of the Met's patrons to the changes Luc Bondy made in <em>Tosca.</em>

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Director Richard Eyre has “taken one of the best-known works in the Metropolitan Opera’s repertoire and invested it with vigor and freshness,” said Eric Myers in Variety. It was a risky undertaking, considering that earlier this year the Met’s picky patrons booed Luc Bondy’s reimagining of Tosca. By updating Carmen’s original 1830s setting to the time of the Spanish Civil War, Eyre brings the “ever-present sense of violence and menace” that suffuses Bizet’s masterpiece to the forefront, thus upping the tension. Factor in Rob Howell’s dark, memorable set designs and the performance of “stunning” Latvian mezzo-soprano Elina Garanca as the titular Gypsy temptress, and this is a Carmen that’s “gripping from start to finish.”

Eyre succeeds by “sticking to the essentials” of Bizet’s perfectly paced opera, said Heidi Waleson in The Wall Street Journal. From the start, he creates a “marked divide” between the citizens of Seville and the Gypsies in their midst, “who look exotic in their long skirts and shawls.” That contrast goes to the heart of the romantic tension between Carmen and the Spanish corporal Don José. Carmen’s liberated worldview is a direct threat to Don José’s strict military discipline, and Garanca’s Carmen has a toughness that magnifies the threat, particularly in Act 1’s “Seguidilla.” Tenor Roberto Alagna’s Don José, meanwhile, responds to Carmen’s provocations with a sweetness that gradually but convincingly gives way to murderous violence.

“Garanca does not have the sort of big, smoldering voice that many opera buffs want in a Carmen,” said Anthony Tommasini in The New York Times. Yet her “rich sound and alluring sensuality” make her memorable. Alagna, who had a cold on opening night, cracked a little on Act 2’s “Flower Song.” But Don José may be remembered as one of the strongest roles of his career. I’ve never seen the final scene—in which an enraged Don José stabs the defiant Carmen—staged with such “stunning realism.” Eyre’s sharp direction consistently evokes “a dangerous mingling of sex, rebellion, and violence,” giving the audience “the very essence of Carmen.

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