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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2016 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Opera Review: Under a Bloodlight

Carmen at the Metropolitan Opera.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The dancers from the opening of Richard Eyre's Carmen.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2010 The Metropolitan Opera.
Richard Eyre's new production of Carmen at the Metropolitan Opera moves the action of Bizet's opera to the war-torn Spain of the 1930s, but that is just one innovative touch in this remarkable staging. Each act opens with a scena played out by two dancers, an idealized version of the relationship between Carmen and Don José. The opera's action is compressed in and around a crumbling, Romanesque arena that moves and rotates with the needs of the staging. It is the sort of bravura high-tech staging that the Met does well, and although the turntable noise can be distracting, the whole thing generally works.

This production has been running for about a month now, and while Monday's performance did not feature the first-tier cast, the singers made a strong showing. As the star-crossed Carmen and Don José, the principals overcame illness to deliver strong, compelling performances.

Olga Borodina was very much in tune with the director's vision for the character. This Carmen is a real woman who happens to have an unfortunate effect on the men around her--a marked improvement from the comic-book vamp in the previous Franco Zeffirelli production. Despite her illness, Borodina's plummy mezzo was in good shape, with strong low notes and a magnetic, earthy sexuality that she projected right up to her death.

Brandon Jovanovich may have been ill, but he was clearly the star of the evening, delivering some thrilling moments as the luckless soldier caught in Carmen's web. The "Flower Song" in Act II is the real test, and the tenor navigated its amorphous, shifting passages with vocal beauty and skill. He blossomed further in the third and fourth acts, rising to a frenzy of jealousy, lust and murder without chewing the scenery.

Carmen works when Escamillo can prove an attractive alternative to José's psychosis. Baritone Mariusz Kwiecien was up to the task. He was a strutting, preening rooster of a matador, who reveled in his own skill, self-awareness and the clear knowledge that all relationships with Carmen (including his own) are temporary. Soprano Jennifer Black was an admirable Micaëla, although she clearly struggled at one point with the acoustic problems caused by the massive set. Despite this, her Act III solo was a highlight.

Mention should also be made of Keith Miller, the fine bass who sang Zuñiga, and Earle Patriarco and Scott Scully who make an appropriately scurvy pair of smugglers. The Act II Quintet was an exercise in skilled, nimble ensemble singing, aided by the sultry Mercedes and Frasquita of Sandra Piques Eddy and Elizabeth Caballero, respectively. Conductor Alain Altinoglu led an intense, egg-timer performance of the score, racing through the dances and marches, but never making the opera feel rushed or heavily cut.
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.