“Carmen” by Bizet: volatile lust often leads to tragedy…

MET Opera House building–Lincoln Center/Wednesday January 3rd, 2024.

Welcome back, and Happy New Year!

This week, friends, welcome once again to the MET Opera.

Yay!

And welcome to a new contemporary (Cracknell) production, of classic late 19th century opera, a beloved “immoral” and “scandalous” French iconic work, set originally in Sevilla, Spain, including some of the most beautiful, romantic and exotic sounding melodies and arias, sumptuous orchestrations, and a lively, timeless, seductive, yet dark story, about youthful, volatile lust, with catastrophic consequences for all.

Wow.

Welcome to Georges Bizet (1838-1875), and his 1875 “verismo” (realistic) and incredibly popular four acts opera tragic masterpiece: “Carmen”.

Yay!

An opera, “Carmen” inspired by a true story, poetically depicted by French librettists and dramatists, Henri Meilhac (1831-1897) and Ludovic Halévy (1834-1908), while also based, on a French novella (1845), by Prosper Mérimée (1803-1870).

Wow.

And be prepared for a few surprises in this new contemporary setting: an American industrial town to update this 19th century opera originally set in Sevilla, Spain.

Wow.

Let’s actually now, take a look at the trailer, to unveil some of the production ideas to modernize this timeless tale, and first and foremost, listen of course, to the blissfully gorgeous music:

Yay!

Enjoy:

How to summarize Bizet’s “Carmen”‘s plot?

“Carmen” depicts originally, in Sevilla, Spain (and now in an American industrial town), a lively, fun, colorful city associated with processions, bullfights (and now rodeos), taverns, including elite, military, bohemian, and gypsy communities living side by side, the story of a beautiful, seductive, sexy, free- spirited, independent woman, Carmen, a factory worker, with a vibrant love life, whose beauty, free spirit, charisma and seductive personality, mesmerizes men from all backgrounds. Her volatile lusty nature will eventually lead to her death, by an ex lover, (Don) José.

Wow.

Specifically, in Act I Carmen “introduces” herself to all, and quickly also, “enchants”, a soldier, (Don) José, who interestingly, at first, upon meeting her (she throws a flower his way to get his attention), first, ignores her.

Wow.

And yet, (Don) José will also eventually, fall “under her spell” when asked to escort her to be questioned and “locked up” after a fight has started in the factory. And to make it more dramatic, he (Don) José, of course, lets her go, and is arrested himself.

Wow.

And this is actually quite “dramatic” and unexpected, that (Don) José agrees to let himself fall “under her (Carmen’s) spell”, even though, another, younger, beautiful, friend of the family, seemingly more innocent, and demure young woman (Micaëla), is also a possible love interest for him. But of course, this is opera.

Oh boy.

Let’s take a look at how Carmen introduces herself and her viewpoint on “love”.

Enjoy.

So charming and what beautiful singing.

By Act 2, Carmen is entertaining and dancing with a group of “smuggler” friends.

Oh boy.

She then soon discovers, that (Don) José has been released from custody.

Oh boy.

A rodeo star, Escamillo, drives through with his “entourage”.

Oh boy.

Escamillo flirts with Carmen, who is clearly not “interested”, as she is “in love” with (Don) José.

Oh boy.

Carmen then, lets Escamillo, his entourage, and the smugglers, go, as she joins (Don) José in a deserted gas station.

Oh boy.

(Don) José and Carmen flirt. Carmen dances for him.

Oh boy.

Suddenly a military French horn sounds in the distance for him, and (Don) José tells Carmen he must return to duty. Carmen mocks him.

Oh boy.

And to prove his love to her, (Don) José sings for Carmen this gorgeous aria:

Enjoy:

I have chosen to share a version of this aria sang many years ago by Roberto Alagna, who in my opinion, sings it beautifully, and with great clarity in the text, being French himself, which of course helps, thus allowing so much more additional emotion to be delivered.

Yay!

So incredibly romantic.

Carmen is unimpressed, and tells (Don) José to leave.

Oh boy.

As (Don) José’s superior officer arrives, (Don) José fights him, and having now assaulted an officer, has no choice (Don) José, but to join the “smugglers” who have arrived as well.

Oh boy.

By Act 3, Carmen and (Don) José who find themselves among the smugglers, start to quarrel.

Oh boy.

Carmen admits that her love for (Don) José is fading, and tells (Don) José to go and live with his mother.

Oh boy.

Among the “smugglers”, there are “fortune tellers”, whose cards predict love and money for some, and death for Carmen and (Don) José.

Oh boy.

Escamillo arrives to invite Carmen see him compete in his next rodeo, and starts fighting with (Don) José.

Oh boy.

Micaëla arrives as well and hides.

Oh boy.

The smugglers separate them and Escamillo leaves. And Micaëla then emerges from her hide out and begs (Don) José to return home as his mother (Don) José’s is dying. He agrees but warns Carmen that they will meet again.

Oh boy.

By Act 4, in a vast rodeo arena, a noisy crowd is found on the bleachers. Carmen arrives on Escamillo’s arm. She is warned by friends that (Don) José is watching her.

Oh boy.

Carmen and (Don) José meet outside the entrance, and she calmly tells him, that their affair is over. She takes off a ring and throws it at his feet, and (Don) José kills her with a baseball bat.

Oh no. So tragic for all. And so unnecessary, but of course this is opera.

What to say about the production?

That I wanted to like it, but was disappointed with some of the choices, even though I liked the idea of changing the setting to a more contemporary time.

I found it too loud, and in your face, too cold and restrictive, and not allowing for much of the romance that does exist, despite the constant drama.

I particularly disliked the gates of the first act where Carmen’s factory is set. The stage was too static and we could not see well enough Carmen. In Act 2, I did not like the truck where Carmen and her smuggler friends dance, it is too far from the audience and the choreography was bland to me. (Line dancing or Zumba would have been more fun). In Act 3, the crashed truck, circling around the stage, did not bring much to the unfolding drama, and in Act 4, I thought the rodeo arena was too stern looking, despite the clowns and vibrant costumes.

I also particularly disliked the “shadow plays” during each preludes to the four acts, which were completely disconnected from the story (to me), and evoked rather “Arrival” aliens, than a doomed love story, because of pathological jealousy.

That’s ok.

What to say about the conductor and performers?

That the orchestra, the choruses (adult and kids), and all the singers, under the expert baton of Italian conductor extraordinaire, the wonderfully nuanced, Daniele Rustioni, were wonderfully energized, convincing, and in top form.

Wow!

The only thing, is the French pronunciation could be better for all, it is a tricky language for non native speakers of course.

As for the singers, of course we missed Piotr Beczala, who was ill, and supposed to sing (Don) José.

And fortunately for us, we had one huge star, one singer, who particularly stood out for me:

Russian mezzo-soprano, Aigul Akhmetshina, was incredibly convincing in the title role, as Carmen and sang beautifully.

Bravo!

Yet, I must say that, American Bass baritone, Kyle Ketelsen, as Escamillo , the intense and passionate rodeo star, was wonderful, both as a singer and an actor.

Bravo!

So, to sum up my feelings, about Bizet’s “Carmen”, admired last Wednesday, at the Met Opera, in great company: what a timeless piece of entertainment: musically gorgeous, including terrific arias and exotic orchestrations and dance. And how awesome is Akhmetshina as “Carmen”, the free-spirited and independent lusty seductress. And finally, while not a great fan of the Cracknell production, at times too cold, too disconnected, too busy, or not using the MET stage correctly, and taking away from the love story/(ies), for my taste, it still brings fun “entertainment” to this timeless tale.

Bravo!

Just terrific!

And not to be missed!

Until next time friends!

Soft…

Fluttering…

Sunny…

Joyful…

Happy…

Loving…

Eternal butterflies 😊