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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Opera Review: Carmen's Latest Flame

Elīna Garanča as Carmen. Photo © 2010 Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera
The presence of Elīna Garanča in the title role of the Met's new Carmen is one of the major reasons for its success. On Monday night, the latest tenor to fall victim to the wiles of the  Latvian mezzo-soprano was Brandon Jovanovich, who makes his Met debut in this run of performances as Don José.

Ms. Garanca has been roundly criticized for taking a 'cool' or 'cerebral' approach to the role of Bizet's hot-blooded Gypsy temptress. However, Monday night's performance had punch, power and passion, with electric undertones accenting the Habañera and Séguedille. She has a pleasing, agile voice, capable of powering through and adding to an ensemble, while dropping down to the lower ranges needed for the later acts of the opera. The highlight of her performance was the Card Song, sung with intelligence and resonant low notes from the chest.

The arc of Don José's descent--from ordinary soldier, to romantic bandit, to madman was expertly played by Mr. Jovanovich. His performance jelled in Act II, when he sang the Flower Song, that K2 of French tenor repertory. He was sure-footed throughout the shifting tonalities and textures that illuminate the diseased landscape of the character's mind. His Don José was a good soldier who went a little nuts in prison, only to have his attraction for Carmen flower (pun intended) into full-on obsession. In Act III and IV, as the obsession turns violent and abusive, Mr. Jovanovich's performance only got better. He made the final murder seem matter-of-fact, which is precisely what made it so chilling.


It is always interesting to hear a full bass as Escamillo. John Relyea had some rocky moments in the first part of the Toreador Song but settled in nicely at the first chorus. Mr. Relyea, who has branched into French repertory after singing many buffo parts at the Met, gave a dark, manly performance as the vain bullfighter. His Act III scene with Don José--made all the more convincing by a well-choreographed knife fight, was the best part of his performance.

Nicole Cabell has a pleasing, if smallish soprano. She gave a gutsy performance as Micaëla, José's long-suffering girlfriend. The Act I "Letter Duet" found her voice melding harmoniously with Mr. Jovanovich's. In Act III, with the aria "Je dis que rien ne m'épouvante" nearly stole the opera from her dark-eyed rival..

This run of Carmen features a conductor new to the Met, English National Opera music director Edward Gardner. His rhythms were not quite as crisp as one might desire, but he found the deep textures within Bizet's orchestrations and kept the opera moving at a lively clip. The Met Orchestra played with its usual panache and the chorus, always important in this most public of operas, were in top form.
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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.