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CARMEN on DVD, Opera and Ballet

BIZET Carmen
Opera in Four Acts (1873-75)
Libretto by Meilhac and Halévy, after Mérimée
Carmen (mezzo) - Anne Sofie von Otter
Don José (tenor) - Marcus Haddock
Escamillo (baritone) - Laurent Naouri
Micaëla (soprano) - Lisa Milne
Zuniga (bass) - Jonathan Best
Mercédès (mezzo) - Christine Rice
Moralès (baritone) - Hans Voschezang
Glyndebourne Festival Chorus
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Philippe Jordan
Directed for the stage by David McVicar
Directed for television by Sue Judd
Recorded live at Glyndebourne Opera House, Sussex, England, 17 August, 2002

BBC OPUS ARTE OA 0867 D [2 Discs: 220 mins]

The Glyndebourne Carmen came in for mixed reviews, with many critics finding Anne Sofie von Otter's performance in the opera by Georges BIZET (1873-75) not sexy enough. Perhaps it is better on DVD, especially the spoken dialogue. The filming catches numerous telling details of expression and draws us close to the sheer intelligence which marks this production and the star performance.

The score is under very capable hands, Philippe Jordan's, and the LPO respond to his rather exhibitionistic approach (how much is for the players, who can only look away from the score momentarily?). McVicar emphasises sexual frustration and takes her as she is, a tense, desperate woman, acting her part to keep depression at bay.

This Escamillo, Laurent Naouri, lean and dangerous, was well cast as a clear winner, even though his interest would probably have been short lived and this Carmen would never be one to settle down with anyone. Lisa Milne as Micaëla was too dull and too nice ever to figure and bring her soldier home. Neither van Otter nor the born loser, her very temporary plaything, Don José Marcus Haddock, seem fully aware of the force of his obsession and disaster clearly looming, forewarned by her friends, until it explodes.

The DVD has a number of 'extras' which are interesting and enlightening, taking you behind the scenes to share the thinking of the team, whether the intelligent, responsive singers, or those who make the costumes and design the important fights.

The booklet is far better than so many for DVDs, several evocative colour photos of the production, and a modern retelling of the story from Don José's point of view, by Jeanette Winterson. Altogether a DVD recommended for a good flavour of this Carmen and of Glyndebourne.

MATS EK's Carmen
The Cullberg Ballet: Ana Laguna (Carmen), Marc Hwang (José), Yvan Auzely (Escamillo), Pompea Santoro (Micaela),George Elkin, Boaz Cohem.
Choreography Mats Ek: décor and costumes Marie-Louise Ekman
Lighting design Goran Westrup
Recorded Stockholm, 1996

Arthaus 100 182 [51 min]

The Glyndebourne/van Otter Carmen is a desirable DVD which we will watch again before long. But meanwhile we have returned, for about the fourth time, to a haunting version of the Carmen gypsy archetype in radical modern dance, one of the first DVDs to whet our now ever-growing interest in this very different musical art form, which attracts a different, and younger audience. To signify that it is not just a retelling of the Merimee novel or the Bizet opera it is entitled Mats Ek's Carmen, signifying freedom to take liberties with a work which has been made into many ballets before Ek; notably Roland Petit's five act ballet of 1949. And many of those have turned, as has Ek, to Rodion Shchedrin's Carmen Suite, deservedly popular in the concert hall and with percussion-emphasised rhythms has proved well suited to dancing and used by many choreographers. It makes an effective aural backdrop to the compelling picture, with good selection of camera angles. It sounds well, but I find no credit for orchestra or conductor from Arthaus.

Mat Ek's Carmen is far from a literal version of Mérimée & Bizet. It concentrates on the four central characters, with Don José torn between domesticity back home and the allure of the wicked world, and the fickle and insatiably rapacious Carmen playing her two latest men. The pervading sexuality is enacted powerfully and at several points the tension is screwed up with vocal interjections, but no intelligible words. A violent ending is the only possible one. The movements and patternings carry astonishing emotional intensity and it is all turned into searing feeling that drives out questions of literal interpretation of the familiar tale, which Mats Ek assumes his audience to know well.

Ek leaves interpretation to the watcher; he reduces it to a devastating 50 minutes, disregards chronology and conflates Jose's mother, intended bride Micaela and Death into a great role for Pompea Santoro. Anna Laguna, with her long cigars, is never going to stay for long with the gentle, expressive Marc Hwang, and Yvan Auzely is an irresistible competitor for her fickle, uncontrollable desires. The DVD reached me at the same time as we had been overwhelmed by the South African version of the opera Carmen brought to Wilton's Music Hall by Broomhill Opera.

Peter Grahame Woolf

There is another Carmen DVD from Paris Opera Ballet [Roland Petit 1949/1990] -well worth considering PGW


Seen&Heard OperaReview

English National Opera at The Coliseum, 24 February 2001 (AW&PGW)

The current revival of Carmen went well on its first night by all accounts, conducted by Vassily Sinaisky. We saw the alternate cast under his assistant conductor, Brad Cohen. Opera depends for its success upon an amalgam of all the elements, crucial components including the setting and the audience.

For Jonathan Miller's 1995 Carmen, the huge Coliseum has reverted to normal proscenium presentation after its successful Italian Season decked in Lazaridis scaffolding, admired and enjoyed again earlier in the week at a second seeing of the spectacular and moving Nabucco, with orchestra on stage sounding resplendent, and with chorus members processing through the aisles amongst the audience and amazing with their vocal power, the whole involving us as participants and far more than a gimmick.

Sally Burgess did not have the essential magnetism to rivet our attention upon her. In Lillas Pastia's bar she was completely sidelined by the elaborately choreographed dancing and the eroticism of the dancing couples eclipsed Carmen as a rather perfunctory temptress - her costumes were more alluring than her body language. [picture Bill Rafferty]

Nor did Carmen and Don José have the chemistry between them to make us care about their inevitable fates. There was no way this Carmen would have bothered with David Rendall's mother-fixated, unglamorous soldier. Nor did the Toreador match the build-up of expectation for his entrances; Roberto Salvatori was not in good voice and his Escamillo and was often just behind the beat, as were the other singers on stage rather often; Brad Cohen did not seem to be able to fix and hold the singers' attention. Carmen is an opera which relies for its full effect upon charismatic conducting, equally as upon its principals; it is impossible to guess how different the total experience would have been for us with the other cast and conductor.

Linda Richardson was touching and sang beautifully as Micaela, the girl from home who never seemed to be in the right place at the right time. The huge chorus did well in their important frame for the personal dramas, but the world they depicted was essentially one of life on a stage in a theatre, despite efforts at naturalism. It was comical to have them crowd in as smugglers with their loot, urging each other increasingly loudly to keeps silent for fear of discovery; the endless repetition of their few words bringing to mind Handel's way in his oratorios and operas. The raucous kids brought life to their mischievous taunting of the soldiery and in their general excitement at the goings on in this Seville.

Although the house was full, as usual for one of the most popular of all operas, and the audience appeared content, for us it simply did not gel. After recent experiences at ENO and, particularly, in Stuttgart , this was a disappointing and long Night at the Opera which left us untouched and bore no comparison with our last experience of this opera, WNO's Carmen at Oxford.

Peter Grahame Woolf

© Peter Grahame Woolf