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Friday, January 4, 2019

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Carmen

The most popular opéra-comique of all time has a bloody ending.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Oh my Darlin': Clémentine Margaine returns as Carmen.
Photo © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.
The throaty French mezzo Clémentine Margaìne returns to the role that marked her Met debut: the seductive title part of Carmen. This run of performances will heat up the month of January.
What is Carmen?
All the world moves through Bizet's musical depiction of Seville, that cosmopolitan Spanish city where the sun beats romance and revenge into a musical frenzy. The characters of Carmen are divers and too numerous to name here, from the marching flag-waving urchins inin the first act to the swaggering, fleet-footed bullfighter Escamillo. The score is packed end-to-end with familiar musical moment. In the hands of a skilled conductor it comes to life and becomes more than a sum of its parts.

What's Carmen about?
Carmen proves that love at first sight can be deadly. An ordinary soldier named Don José (pronounced as it's a French opera, with a hard "J") becomes obsessed and infatuated with the title character, a free-spirited cigarette factory worker with a certain fatal charm. She leaves him for a wealthy and pompous bullfighter. He kills her outside the bullring in a fit of jealous rage.

What's the music like?
From the first bars of the Prelude to the last bars of the fourth act this is one of the most beautiful, energetic and tuneful operas ever written. That's not hyperbole. From familiar themes like the Act I Habañera to the "Toreador Song," "Flower Song" and the the "Card Scene", this is literally a string of familiar melodies that are ubiquitous, not just in the world of opera but in the world's popular culture.

Why should I see it?
Carmen has it all: memorable tunes, a compelling plot and a score that sticks close to French classicism while drinking deeply of the rhythms and meters of its Spanish setting. George Bizet's last work (he died shortly after it premiered) is one of the most popular operas in the repertory, and rightfully so. It's always worth seeing, even if you've seen it before.

Who's in it?
French mezzo Clémentine Margaine will sing all of this year's performances, returning to the role that marked her Met debut. Roberto Alagna, who started the season with a rocky run in Samson et Dalila will look for vocal and dramatic redemption in the role of Don José. The acclaimed Israeli conductor Omar Meir Wellber and Louis Langrée will divide the performances.

How's the production?
Popular. This staging by Sir Richard Eyre keeps the score intact while using the common trope of setting the opera during the Spanish Civil War. A rotating set captures the transitory and shifting action of the plot, while dancers doing a pas de deux under a blood-light remind the audience that this opera won't have a happy ending.

When does it open?
Carmen returns to the Met on Oct. 30, 2018. A spring run starts on Jan. 9, 2019.

Where can I get tickets?
Tickets  are available through MetOpera.Org or by calling the box office at (212) 362-6000. You can save service fees by going to the box office in person at the Met itself, located at 30 Lincoln Center Plaza. Hours: Monday to Saturday: 10am-8pm, Sunday: 12pm-6pm.

Which recording should I get?
For a whole list of recording recommendations, it's time to visit and join Superconductor's Patreon page, and help support the cost of independent music journalism in New York City at the low cost of just $5/month.

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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.